Animals And Language
[Sept. 1, 1883.]
I can match Mrs. De Morgan's pretty story of her Dido. A wise old dog
with whom I have the privilege to associate was, two or three days ago,
lying asleep in her basket by the fire. I entered the room with my hat
on, and invited her to join me in a walk; but, after looking up at me
for a moment, as canine politeness required, she dropped back among her
cushions, obviously replying, "Thank
you very much, but I prefer
repose." Thereupon I observed, in a clear voice, "I am not going on
the road [a promenade disliked by the dogs, because the walls on either
side restrict the spirit of scientific research]; I am going up the
mountain." Instantly my little friend jumped up, shook her ears, and,
with a cheerful bark, announced herself as ready to join the party.
Beyond doubt or question, Colleen had either understood the word "road,"
or the word "mountain," or both, and determined her proceedings
accordingly. Nothing in my action showed, or could show, the meaning of
If any of your readers who have resided for some weeks or months in a
country where a language is spoken entirely foreign to their own--say,
Arabic, or Basque, or Welsh--will recall of how many words they
insensibly learn the meaning without asking it, and merely by hearing
them always used in certain relations, they will have, I think, a fair
measure of the extent and nature of a dog's knowledge of the language of
his masters. My dog has lived fewer years in the world than I have
passed in Wales, but he knows just about as much English as I know
Welsh, and has acquired it just in the same way.
F. P. C.