• Concept

    Past efforts of researching language learning abilities of animals, most popularly the study of Koko the sign-language fluent Gorilla have eagerly been shrugged off by experts as advanced trick learning.  In the context of the more leisurely approach presented by the recently emerging trend of communicating with your pet dogs (and sometimes cats) via buttons with recorded words (as represented by Bunny, the viral “talking” dog and the “Fluent Pet” brand) I would like to develop a tool translating animal language (in this case rat calls) in real time.

    Studies analyzing rat calls have shown they are syllabic (suggests some kind of syntax) and carry semantic content (2010, Structure of Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations and Its Relevance to Behaviour, Nobuaki Takahashi, Makio Kashino, Naoyuki Hironaka and 2019, DeepSqueak: a deep learning-based system for detection and analysis of ultrasonic vocalizations, Kevin R. Coffey, Russel Marx and John F. Neumaier). This project takes advantage of a more artistic approach to bring forth applicable, context-driven and empirically determined informations about these distinguishable calls without aiming to scientifically answer the question of what the underlying principles of animal vocalisations are and whether they could be considered language or not.

    Having conducted extensive studies on prairie dog vocalisations, Constantine (Con) Slobodchikoff argues in favor of the proposition that the information exchanging systems of animals can and should be considered language. Prairie dogs are mostly considered vermin in the area, but with his results proving the intricacy of their communication, he has changed the attitude of a lot of people towards them. (2012, Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, Con Slobodchikoff)

    Therefore, the study of animal behaviour and communication can have a great impact on the value assigned to a species among the public. Given that unpleasant associations with rats are prevalent, I view the study of their intricate ways of communication as a great chance to clear common misconceptions as well as adding a point for reflections upon the relationship between humans and animals in general from the comfort of home with owner and pet reaching new levels of understanding.

    I expect the final result of this experiment to be of timebased nature, for example in the form of a documentary, but the specific properties of the practical aspect is dependent upon the outcome of the experiment itself which cannot be known at this point.