Koshik the elephant 'talks' to his trainer – Video

Annyong! The Korean word for “hello” is part of 22-year-old Asian elephant Koshik’s five-word vocabulary. He can also utter the words for sit down (anja), lie down (nuo), good (choah) and no (aniya), according to a study published today in the journal Current Biology.

The frequency patterns of Koshik’s human-like mutterings were also more similar to his trainers’ speech than to the calls other Asian elephants make, the scientists claim.

“This is remarkable considering the huge size, the long vocal tract, and other anatomical differences between an elephant and a human,” lead author and animal behaviorist Angela Stoeger of the University of Vienna said in a press release.

Koshik may have learned to manipulate formants, or the frequency components humans use to discern sounds, in his “speech” by putting his trunk in his mouth, which “is a wholly novel method of vocal production,” the authors wrote in the study. By doing that, he’s able to make higher-pitched sounds than he would normally, according to the study.

Trainers taught Koshik, who was born in captivity, to respond to these five words, but he started imitating humans on his own, Stoeger told Wired in an email. She and her team think he may have used vocal mimicry to bond with his human companions, especially during the seven years he spent alone at Everland Zoo in South Korea.

Trainers at Everland, where Koshik lives, initially told the researchers he could say six words. Stoeger and her team put the elephant’s lexicon to the test by playing his “speech” to human Koreans and asking them to write down what they heard. The researchers didn’t tell them what words Koshik was imitating. After analyzing the data, they concluded the big-eared beast had only picked up five words. The study didn’t say which word was axed from Koshik’s official verbal repertoire.

Researchers record Koshik at the Everland Zoo in South Korea. Photo: Current Biology / Stoeger et al.

Mimicry of human speech among other mammals is not very common, but it’s not unheard of. The researchers mention Hoover the seal, who was raised by a fisherman and could speak a few words of English, a beluga who could say its name, and another male Asian elephant who could mutter some Russian and Kazakh.

Koshik may understand what the words he’s “speaking” mean, but he probably doesn’t intend them as commands or feedback, wrote Tecumseh Fitch, one of the study’s authors, in an e-mail to Wired. ”Or at least when he says ‘lie down,’ he doesn’t seem to get upset if you don’t.”

The researchers also told Wired that Koshik now has a lady friend, Hati, in whom he’s showing quite a bit of interest. He has not used the line, “Annyong. Nuo,” on her yet.

VIDEO Talking Elephant

Responses to "Talking Elephant Learns 5-Word Vocabulary "

  1. Anonymous says:

    He nees to learn four words:"Please don't kill me!"

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