Category Archives: Research

Why do we talk to animals (and things)?


baobao ou / Getty

Review of Why Do Humans Talk to Animals If They Can’t Understand? by Arianna Rebolini in The Atlantic | AUG 18, 2017

I talk to animals all the time, whether they are dogs, goats, cows, pigs, chickens, etc. (I volunteer at an animal shelter and a farm sanctuary.) I know they speak different languages from mine, but I know at least they can hear me. I believe whatever affection I melt into my speech will reach them through the sound. It is one of ways I express my love and care for them. I know it works because they respond differently when I talk to them sweetly (e.g. patting) versus when I talk to them sternly (e.g. giving commands)

When people are asked to define ‘language’, they often use the word ‘communicate’ to describe its meaning. So when I talk to animals, although my message is not conveyed 100%, I intend to communicate with them at some level. This is supported by recent incidents at my animal shelter. We currently have a deaf and blind dog, Pretty Girl. I noticed that I talk to her significantly less than to other dogs. I start by talking to her upon our encounter but quickly hold myself back realizing she can’t hear me. Then I try to focus on other ways to communicate with her–mostly through slow touch and smell.

Not only do I talk to animals, I talk to objects, too. When I drop my phone, I will say “sorry” to it. When a copy machine finishes copying my material, I will commend it by saying “good job, copy machine!” Why do I do that? I know they don’t hear me, so the purpose is not to communicate. (And I know I’m not cuckoo, either.) This article by Arianna Rebolini provided me with some answers to this question. It started with the topic of talking to animals, but it gave explanation to why humans talk in general.

Hal Herzog, the anthrozoologist and professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, states

talking to our pets is absolutely natural. Human beings are natural anthropomorphizers, meaning we naturally tend to [ascribe] all kinds of thoughts and meanings to other things in our lives.

Yes! I’m a ANTHROPOMORPHIZER! (In face, we humans all are.) This word comes from a verb–anthropomorphize.


/ˌæn θrə pəˈmɔr faɪz/

to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.).


However, we are NOT all same anthropomorphizer. Ha! It turns out some people tend to talk to animals (or non-humans) more than the others. A 2008 study by Northwestern University found that individuals who chronically feel lonely or desire control in their lives treated their pets more like human companions. This definitely explains Chuck Noland’s relationship with Wilson the volleyball in the film, Castaway. Stranded alone on a small island, Chuck paints a face on a volleyball and names it Wilson. Wilson plays a vital role keeping Chuck, who feels deeply lonely and utterly out of control, alive and sane during this four-year-long isolation until he gets rescued.


This study might also explain my behavior of talking to just about anything: I have constant craving for socialization and control over uncertainties in life. Or I might be just idiocyncratic, believing that we CAN communicate with all things in our surrounding, at least spiritually.



The Divide between North and South Korean Players in the Unified Ice Hockey Team: Language

10 days before the Winter Olympic commenced in PyeonChang, South Korea, the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team had its first joint practice. The 38th Parallel had kept the players separated from either side of the Demilitarized Zone until this day, and now they had to overcome the last barrier: one of their languages.

North and South Korean women's ice hockey athletes talk during their training session in Jincheon National Training Centre in Jincheon

Players from North and South Korean women’s ice hockey teams talk during a training session at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, South Korea, on Sunday. | REUTERS

It turns out the biggest language barrier was due to the different system of adapting English ice hockey terms: South Korean team modified their sounds to fit Korean phonology, but North Korean team created new words partially through translation.

[In South Korea] Skating is called “seu-ke-ee-ting” and a “t-push” — a defensive technique by a goalie — is “tee-pu-sh.”

But the North created its own Korean-language words for each move, calling skating “apuro-jee-chee-gee,” while a t-push is a “moonjeegee-eedong,” literally meaning “a move by a gatekeeper.”

Source: Two Koreas’ Olympic ice hockey team faces unexpected challenge: language | The Japan Times

In order to bridge the gap, a list of approximately 70 ice hockey terms, different in North Korean and South Korean, was disseminated to players and coaches.

I once wrote about this difference in a proposal for my MA thesis research on English loanwords in Korean.

This research can potentially serve as a basis for bridging discrepancy between North and South Korean languages, since they have been diverging ever since their division in 1948: a big part of language divergence is treatment of loanwords in each language where North strictly restrain use of loanwords and South is more open to adopting them. For example, pama meori in South Korean for ‘permed hair’ with the English loanword pama versus bokeum meori in North Korean with native Korean word bokeum for ‘fried’.

Experts say nearly half of vocabulary words used in daily conversation in the North and the South are different, and the gap is bigger in professional work places: about 66%. Although the unified team became one despite of the language difference as one of the players testified below, it will still pose a big challenge in the potentially unified country, Corea.

“It was kind of a mess at first because of the different speaking styles and accents, but once I realized their genuineness, we were able to communicate emotionally,”


Korean’s women hockey team captain Ko Hye-in holds a jersey signed by all 35 members of the team. | HanKyoReh

Source: Unified Korean women’s hockey team says a tearful goodbye | HanKyoReh