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British Expat Newsletter:
7 March 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: If I could talk to the animals…
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Have you ever had a pet that seemed to understand you – or known someone who claims they have?

It’s not an uncommon claim, by any means. But a few years back, an African grey parrot called N’kisi caused a brief flurry in the press when it was suggested that he was capable of a particularly high level of language use, including humour and inventive sentence constructions. Dr Jane Goodall, famous for her research with chimpanzees, called N’kisi’s abilities an “outstanding example of interspecies communication”.

So far, so good. But the parrot’s owner, a New York artist called Aimee Morgana, claimed that N’kisi’s abilities went further, to telepathy. Dr Rupert Sheldrake, a researcher into the paranormal, carried out experiments in which Ms Morgana (in a separate room and out of sight of N’kisi) looked at picture cards for two minutes at a time, while anything N’kisi said was closely monitored. According to Dr Sheldrake, N’kisi correctly identified the card Ms Morgana was looking at three times more often than probability would dictate. Spooky, eh?

Er, no. Of the 147 two-minute trials conducted, 60 were rejected because N’kisi either said nothing or said something that wasn’t one of the 19 pictures, and a further 16 were rejected because the transcribers of the video tape were unable to agree on what N’kisi had said. So over half of the trials were simply discarded, although there’s good grounds for taking them as evidence refuting the suggestion that N’kisi might be telepathic. And then of the remaining 71, a disproportionate number of trials took place with just two of the pictures – one of a flower, and one of water – which appeared nearly one time in three and accounted for just over half of N’kisi’s “successes”. So the data were massively skewed.

And in any event the meaning of N’kisi’s “speech” – telepathic or not – isn’t always as clear as might be thought from the transcripts prepared by his owner. For instance, he’s described as saying “That’s so cool!” in an enthusiastic tone. Well, of course he does. That’s probably the only way he’s heard it said. But it takes a big leap of the imagination to assume that he’s putting any emotional content into the sounds he’s reproducing.

Sure, some animals can be very intelligent – in their own terms. A few even exhibit characteristics we think of as human, for instance the chimpanzees who’ve been observed shaping sticks and using them as hunting weapons. But fully-fledged inter-species verbal communication still seems to be a long way off. And given the likely topics of conversation, perhaps that’s just as well…

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

The World Parrot Trust’s website contains anything you might need to know about keeping parrots, as well as campaigning against the illegal trade in wild-captured birds.
World Parrot Trust

Another species which humans are attempting to teach communication – this time using sign language – is the gorilla. Here’s a site all about Koko, a female gorilla being taught American Sign Language by scientists at Stanford University:
www.koko.org

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • ruggie bare
  • mascots for hire in bangkok
  • haynes manual joke
  • you can deny me
  • falling horse
  • disappearing tribe
  • shetland black tattie
  • breakfast tattoo
  • hooping sex
  • malcolm glazer never watched manchester

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay
Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“Whenever you observe an animal closely, you feel as if a human being sitting inside were making fun of you.”

– Elias Canetti, Bulgarian-born British novelist (1905-94)

Joke

A woman’s dishwasher had stopped working, so she called a repair man.

He couldn’t accommodate her with an evening appointment, and since she had to go to work the next day, she told him, “I’ll leave the key under the mat. Fix the dishwasher, leave the bill on the kitchen table, and I’ll post you the cheque. By the way, don’t worry about my Rottweiler. He won’t bother you. But, whatever you do, do not under any circumstances talk to my parrot!”

When the repair man arrived at her house the next day, he discovered the biggest and meanest looking Rottweiler he had ever seen. Like she had said, the dog just lay there on the kitchen floor, watching the repair man go about his business. However, the whole time he was there, the parrot drove him nuts with its incessant squawking and talking.

Finally the repair man couldn’t stand the parrot’s talking any longer and he told the bird to be quiet.

The parrot replied, “Get him, Brutus!”

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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