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Some pet owners seem to be able to speak to their cats or dogs. Is there any evidence that animals understand human languages?

EDIT: By understand, i mean understanding of spoken language and relatively long sentence. We are not talking about understanding of some reserved, isolated words (like run command or attack command for dogs). It's more like understanding of discourse with all methaphors and grammatical constructions and perhaps all this Sprachspiel (Wittgenstein).

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    Yes, i know about primates (human-primate communication) and communication between animals (bee dances, whale songs, birds songs, meerkat signals). But i've especially interested about communication between human and domesticated animals (like cats and dogs). I think i should edit my original question..
    – bokryonok
    Sep 4 '13 at 14:30
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    Understand, especially in the context of animal subjects, has a very broad range of meanings. You're up against the Turing test at one end of the range, and the Kluger Hans phenomenon at the other end. I tend to think that humans and pets can achieve either a convincing imitation of real understanding or the real thing -- in the appropriate circumstances, like anything else. But how could one tell the difference?
    – jlawler
    Sep 4 '13 at 17:01
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    It's still ambiguous. How could a dog understand "language"? Could he understand a romance novel? A poem? A grammar paper? And how could one tell? Certainly dogs can memorize a large number of spoken words for different things; that's been proven. But this is not language; humans don't retrieve dolls on hearing the doll's name spoken. They can, but mostly they have other uses for spoken language, some of which involve human understanding. As Wittgenstein put it, if lions could talk, we couldn't understand them.
    – jlawler
    Sep 4 '13 at 21:43
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    @bokryonok Even in Turing tests you need to be wary of the Chinese room phenomenon where a man in a room with a Chinese-English dictionary can, given a series of Chinese symbols and enough time, convince the people outside the room that he speaks fluent Chinese even if he doesn't.
    – acattle
    Sep 5 '13 at 2:18
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    @bokrynok No, it's not - at least not in the way that i suspect you mean. There's an instance of a collie having been convincingly shown to have memorised around 1000 individual words (wofford.edu/psychology/chaser), but that's the most impressive case i know about. There's absolutely zero evidence of any understanding of grammar. I'd recommend reading 'Doctor Dolittle's Delusion' by Stephen Anderson : amazon.com/Doctor-Dolittles-Delusion-Uniqueness-Language/dp/…
    – P Elliott
    Sep 5 '13 at 10:15

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