The languages of animals

Exploring the varied and wonderful world of animal language with Sir David Attenborough in these 1973 CHRISTMAS LECTURES.

About this series

Breaking the cardinal rule of broadcast television – ‘never work with animals or children’ – David Attenborough demonstrates the varied means by which animals convey information to one another and reveals a collection of diverse and complicated behaviours.

From visual signals to distinctive scents, the series explores the vast repertoire of animal language as well as the diverse meaning of messages, whether it be attracting a mate or acting as a warning signal.

As Attenborough explains, getting the right message across often means the difference between life and death. Parents communicate with their young, infants signal when they’re in distress and specific colours can signal danger. Other animals have also devised clever deceptions, mimicking the warning signals of others without actually possessing a physical threat.

Language is shown to be a universal tool of the animal kingdom but, asks Attenborough, how can we learn what animals are saying to each other and how does their language compare to our own? The series concludes by exploring whether it is possible for us to communicate with animals and if we could ever hope to teach an animal to use a human language. 

Please note: The fourth lecture in the series ("Simple Signs and Complicated Communications") is considered a missing a lecture. If you have a copy of the recording, we would be very grateful if you got in contact with us at xmaslectures@ri.ac.uk.

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