Posted by: glue | November 25, 2012

Koshik

The Poet Speaks

If you are patient, the world provides a relay that you recognize as your own (what belongs to me):  enowning.  What is it like to write poetry, or even to attempt authentic communication?  What is the feeling (the felt)?  What is the motivation?  Here is the figure:  a desire; the elephant Koshik.  Separated, living in isolation, Koshik learned how to imitate the sounds made by the only other living creatures it knew — its Korean keepers.

The elephant’s vocabulary consists of exactly five words, researchers report on November 1 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. Those include “annyong” (“hello”), “anja” (“sit down”), “aniya” (“no”), “nuo” (“lie down”), and “choah” (“good”). Ultimately, Koshik’s language skills may provide important insights into the biology and evolution of complex vocal learning, an ability that is critical for human speech and music, the researchers say.

“Human speech basically has two important aspects, pitch and timbre,” says Angela Stoeger of the University of Vienna. “Intriguingly, the elephant Koshik is capable of matching both pitch and timbre patterns: he accurately imitates human formants as well as the voice pitch of his trainers. This is remarkable considering the huge size, the long vocal tract, and other anatomical differences between an elephant and a human.”

The fact that Koshik talks pales compared with how he talks. When humans make an o sound, they pull in their cheeks and pout their lips out into a rounded circle. Elephants don’t have that cheek-lip structure—they long ago traded it in for trunks—so it’s anatomically impossible to make those sounds.

Koshik sidesteps this problem by sticking the tip of his trunk into his mouth and moving his lower jaw, essentially MacGyvering his vocal tract.

“He really developed a new way of sound production,” Stoeger said. “Naturally, Asian elephants don’t do this.”

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