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Monday, October 14, 2013

Cows too have regional accents says BBC

I speak Tamil, my mother tongue ~ in Chennai there are people with diverse language backgrounds. Individual mother tongues in India number several hundreds; according to Census of India of 2001, 30 languages are spoken by more than a million native speakers, 122 by more than 10,000.

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system. The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between 6,000 and 7,000. However, any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects. Natural languages are spoken or signed, but any language can be encoded into secondary media.   All languages rely on the process of semiosis to relate signs with particular meanings. Human language is unique because it has the properties of productivity, recursivity, and displacement, and because it relies entirely on social convention and learning. Its complex structure therefore affords a much wider range of possible expressions and uses than any known system of animal communication.

Cows have been domesticated millions of years ago and humans have benefitted from cows in many many ways…. The sound of cow [modern children may not even have physically heard this nor got closer to a cow] – is termed ‘mmaa’ [amma….!!] ~  In English language, the onomatopoeia for the sound of a cow is "moo".

The sound that a cow makes is similar to the word moo or phonetically sounding like 'meh.' Depending on the emotional state of the cow at the time of making its noise, the moo will have different frequencies. A higher pitched moo will indicate that a cow is excited, angry, or in trouble. A low pitched moo is simply communication or the indication that the cow is hungry. A single moo is just a cow talking to get your attention while incessant mooing is their way of telling you that they need more than just an acknowledgement.

Would a Tamil cow talk differently than a Haryanvi cow or one in Somerset…. I have never thought on these lines…. But a report in BBC say that cows have regional accents like humans, language specialists have suggested.

The BBC report states that researchers examined the issue after dairy farmers noticed their cows had slightly different moos, depending on which herd they came from. John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, said regional twangs had been seen before in birds. The farmers in Somerset who noticed the phenomenon said it may have been the result of the close bond between them and their animals. Farmer Lloyd Green, from Glastonbury, said: "I spend a lot of time with my ones and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl. "I've spoken to the other farmers in the West Country group and they have noticed a similar development in their own herds.

Prof Wells felt the accents could result from their contemporaries. He said: "This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. "This could also be true of cows. "In small populations such as herds you would encounter identifiable dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group." Dr Jeanine Treffers-Daller, reader in linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, agreed that the accent could be influenced by relatives. She said: "When we are learning to speak, we adopt a local variety of language spoken by our parents, so the same could be said about the variation in the West Country cow moo."    
Makes an interesting read, but do not go and stand near a cow trying to speak your own language
With regards – S. Sampathkumar   

14th Oct 2013

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