Something a bit different for my blog but I couldnt help but share this very cool article by Holly Root-Gutteridge I saw on twitter about how wolves (and other animals) have different tunes/patterns when communicating depending on the region they are from. It is pretty fascinating reading about how this research showed that the animals have evolved to not just be physically adapted to their environment but also audibly different from one another. The full article is somewhat long but definitely worth a read.
The question of when and how language first emerged is the topic of tremendous controversy – it has even been called ‘the hardest question in science’. My work is on what information can be extracted from vocalisations. It is a first step in understanding where the physical body dictates the shape and form of the call, and where the caller has control. For example, a piano player is limited to combinations of a piano’s 88 keys, but a song played on a Steinway will have different sound qualities to the same song on a bar’s upright. In addition, different tunes can also be played. Separating the characteristics of the instrument from the choices of the player is essential before we can understand what meaning those choices might convey.
More questions follow. If howls from different subspecies are different, do the howls convey the same message? Is there a shared culture of howl-meanings, where an aggressive howl from a European wolf means the same thing as an aggressive howl of a Himalayan? And can a coyote differentiate between a red wolf howling with aggressive intent and one advertising the desire to mate? Even without grammar or syntax, howls can convey intent, and if the shape of the howl changes enough while the intent remains constant, the foundations of distinctive culture can begin to appear.