Tag Archives: bilingualism

Are the Pets Bilingual?

My mother unconsciously gave me a clue for the topic to write about. Today I was talking to her on the phone and before quitting our conversation she said it was so great that there was “someone” at home to talk to. You have probably guessed from the title of the post that it is something to do with pets. And you are absolutely right! Hence, “someone” in the first sentence stands for my cat Azur.

Let`s think about the way pets around the world understand their owners’ languages. It does not matter if you are from Australia or Kazakhstan, you talk to your pets and whether it is in English or Kazakh, you will get respond either through actions or sounds. However, it is the case of using one language but what if the owner is bilingual? We always refer bilingualism to humans only. Is it possible that non-human species possess cognitive capacity to perceive more than one language to understand?

I have encountered an interesting post written by Sean Roberts, a PhD student of Linguistics from Edinburgh. In his post there are patterns and background of his MA which is Artificial Intelligence and Linguistics. The whole post is about broad and narrow senses of the “Faculty of Language” – FLB and FLN recpetively. FLB is related to  features that both humans and animals possess, whereas FLN refers to capacities which are involved in language alone. The post’s idea is about our perception of bilingualism. Roberts claims that bilingualism is the product of social interaction and whether non-human species have capacities for bilingualism in the broad sense.

So, Sean refers to Hauser Chomsky Fitch (2002) to divide bilingualism into two types. Firstly, in the narrow sense bilingualism refers to ability to learn several human languages. As you can see, it is relatable to human beings only. Secondly, in the broader sense bilingualism is understood as “the general capacity to acquire more than one signaling system.” This capacity may be shared with animals. Usually animals communicate for survival interests’ sake: food, predators, and mating but humans can go beyond this need. However, Roberts takes stance on the possibility that bilingualism comes from cultural interaction with people. Many cognitive capacities are involved for linguistic communication but basically it is all about memory, found both in humans and animals. According to Fabbro (2014), animals keep dangerous and pleasant experiences in their memories, thus they are able to avoid the former and recall the latter. This what I have found interesting in the Roberts’s post. Obviously, that further studies to find more for bilingual behaviour in animals are required.

From my own experience with Azur (my cat), firstly, he comes when we call him by his name. The most funniest thing is that when I say “Azur?” he replies with “Hm?” (like “what do you want from me?”)

Secondly, I can claim that he understands both Kazakh and Russian, since we speak two languages at home. He recognizes the names of the objects and the commands. For instance, when I ask in Kazakh “Доп қайда?” (Where is the ball?) he goes to look for it under the sofa in the living room or under the fridge in the kitchen (the constant locations of the ball after he finishes playing with it). The same result can follow the same phrase in Russian. The phrase “let’s go” in Kazakh (“жүр”) and Russian (“пойдем”) makes him to go after me to the kitchen for the new portion of tasty treats. In my opinion, I am not the only one who witnesses the pets’ ability to identify a language or two. May be more than two?



Roberts, S. (2010). Bilingualism as a preadaptation for language. Retrieved from http://theadventuresofauck.blogspot.com/2010/05/bilingualism-as-preadaptation-for.html

Fabbro, F. (2014). The neurolinguistics of bilingualism: an introduction. Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press.