The Dr Dolittle Challenge Continued

Is it their turn to speak?

The Dr Dolittle Challenge Continued
  • £30

    pledged of £3,000

    • 2


    • 0


This project received pledges on Wed 16 Dec 2015

A short summary of the project

Hello!  My name’s Jenny and I’m a Linguistics Postgrad student entering the second year of my three-year part-time course at Bangor University, Wales.  My research interest is Animal Communication, as this exciting new subject will:

  • ·          tell us more about what language is and how it works,
  • ·          open up a world of information that currently only other species have access to, and,
  • ·         most importantly, finally allow animals to - literally - have a voice!

It is my goal, in my MA, PhD, and beyond, to bring Animal Communication to the fore as a distinct field of research, and especially within Linguistics – so far, a very 'human' subject. 

In so doing, I am hoping to achieve better animal rights, and the chance – one day – to ‘talk’ to other animals.  It would be incredibly exciting to know if birds might be singing laments about the morning queues for the seed tray, or if dogs were checking their ‘Sniffbook’ updates at the nearest lamppost, or if cows were sounding out their enjoyment of their children frolicking in the fields. 

Not to mention how much of a relief it would be when people eventually question, for instance, the merits of intensive farming, testing cosmetics, or the right to hunt for sport once we know that animals really do think, feel, and communicate like us humans.

For more detail on my studies, as well as some cute cartoons, please view my initial crowdfunding project:

successes so far

Firstly, I would like to say a massive thank you, once again, for the support I gained with my prior project:  The funds I achieved covered the cost of a 10-credit module studied in my first year, which was an amazing contribution!  More so, though, I gained immense emotional support from the many animal lovers who funded, retweeted, and chatted with me.  Quite a number of them even urged me to try out crowdfunding here I am.

I am also very happy to report a Distinction for my efforts in the course so far, which I obviously aim to maintain throughout the rest of my MA.

In addition, I was invited to give a couple of well-received talks about my research at the Catholic Concern For Animals Conference, and this was an ideal opportunity to get to know even more wonderful, caring people and their fantastic anecdotes of animals in their own lives.

Across the summer then, besides Waitressing (my day job while I am a student), I have been preparing for the upcoming year.

And what am I up to next?  Check back for updates on this project page.  Better yet, donate just £5 to help me cover the MA’s steep study costs, and I will send you detailed quarterly newsletters with fun facts for the rest of my course into autumn 2017!

where will the money go?

Happily, so far, I've completed one year of this MA.  One down, but two to go! 

The MA costs a total of £4,610 (without study materials).  This is broken down into £128 per month.  As I am funding the course myself, on top of living costs, any assistance – or funding advice – is greatly appreciated. 

Your kind donations strictly go towards covering the costs of the MA, in which I am building a strong scientific foundation for Animal Communication studies within Linguistics, and a fairer future for our neighbours in the Animal Kingdom.

To contribute, please click 'SPONSOR PROJECT' at the bottom of this page.


In addition to my regular Tweets (@AnimalLinguist), there are animal and gift-friendly rewards available if I can achieve certain levels of funding (listed in the right-hand column of this page).

Be sure to select your reward when making a donation!

will you help me help animals?

In addition to contributions, I need as many people as possible talking about this project. So please share this project with anyone you know who cares about animals – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, your blog, by telephone, during your dog walk, or even in a chat at the bus stop.  Help me spread awareness of the value of Animal Communication, dare I say, Animal Language research. 

Long have we spoken for animals, made choices on their behalf, sadly often ignored them too.  Now it’s their time, their turn.

Let’s not be a voice for animals, but recognise that animals have a voice.

1 year, 8 months ago

I have handed in my first assignment of this term and am currently working on an essay that will impact upon the way people interact, with respect to how forceful or balanced their words come across as.  It's good to flex my linguistic muscles ahead of my dissertation.

Very much looking forward to Christmas too at the moment.  It will be tight again this year, especially as I am still out of work: 2 months now with no sick pay because of a zero-hour contract.  Still, there are atrocities happening out there every day that keep me awake at night, including the upcoming turkey slaughter.  So I plod on as best I can, appreciating any support I receive, such as your kind and generous donations towards my MA fees.

I will be sending out my quarterly newsletter again soon.  If you haven't already pledged but would like to receive this newsletter with animal facts, communication info, and updates on my studies, please click the column on the right to sponsor me £5.  Thanks!

1 year, 9 months ago

I have been asked on Twitter, quite rightly, for more details about the specific nature of my Animal Communication research, further to what is on this and my previous project page:

So in short, without giving my game away too much before I can actually submit in 2017 ;-), the main thing to know is that I am the first Linguist to take up the topic of Animal Communication, as Linguistics is a very 'human' subject.  To study Animal Communication within this field is tantamount to saying that it is at least possible that animals possess (the ability for) language of some kind.  This is a very controversial claim.

In exploring this topic, I will of course be reviewing and evaluating research carried out by other Scientists, such a potential evidence for syntax (sentence structure as it were) amongst birds, signature whistles (akin to names) amongst dolphins, the detailed alarm calls of various mammals, and so forth.

But I will also be looking beyond the collecting function of my research, which is to bring all this together to assess patterns, value of evidence for language-like ability, and so on from a Linguistic point of view, rather than a Biologist's or Psychologist's (after all, you wouldn't ask a geologist over a surgeon to operate on you just because he also uses tools and a scientifc method!)

One major avenue for my onward travels will be to explore whether animals have a concept of self and other, known formally as theory of mind.  This very much plays into how we assess their forms and level of communication, coming down to whether or not they know what their communication is for and then how to use it for their (and others') benefit, as a tool if you will.

I am still at an exploratory stage in my research, only one year into my MA, while many other peers have not even a clue yet as to what their dissertation topic will even be!  But I hope this gives those more curious of you a greater insight into where I am going with this research, and therefore why it will matter so much for animal welfare in the bigger picture. 

If we discover that animals do have language, or at least the capacity for it, quite simply we will be able one day to communicate with them, and they will gain a voice of their own, to tell US what rights they should have!

1 year, 9 months ago

Working on my first assignment of the academic year at the moment and feeling very confident.  Very linguistic in focus but it is giving me plenty of out-of-the-box ideas for approaching how animals communicate.

My voluntary fundraising for Bangor University has raised well over £10,000 now.  I am very happy to have helped so many students on their way to building a brighter future.

Meanwhile, I am taking every opportunity of raising the issue of my Animal Communication research.  The reception it's getting is always incredibly positive, which leaves me highly optimistic about the future for animal welfare as well as how we rethink what we think we know about language!

1 year, 9 months ago

While I hobble about and miss shifts at work, and University fees rise again this year, things are a bit tight in the Animal Linguists' home again.  But that only inspires me more! 

In fact, I have now made another breakthrough in my dog experiments, which will be very useful for making the case that animals know exactly what communication is for - and how to use it!  Anyone who has been persuaded by a puppy's eyes or kitten's miaow certainly knows this.

I would also like to say a massive thank you to those kind people who have been supporting my research and struggles to make the world a fairer place for animals. 

1 year, 9 months ago

Hello!  This is my first update of the Dr Dolittle Challenge Continued, my second year of MA study to research 'animal communication' - dare I say 'language'.  It would have arrived sooner had I not dislocated my knee, which has brought my Waitressing work and many other endeavours sadly to a standstill (pun intended).

Nevertheless, my research goes on.  I am deep into a new module on how the mind processes, creates and understands language.  I have also carried out a short experiment on a couple of pooches I know to test for a bit of theory of mind.  No need to panic, the only thing the pooches were really subjected to were a few tasty treats and the odd bit of confusion over where to find them!

The initial results are a bit hazy but are helping me to redraft the study to find out even more. 

In the meantime, I am officially mentoring other students this year, and will be helping my University to fundraise again too.

Watch this space for more updates :-)  And here's a challenge for you: the next time your dog play bows, or your guinea pig squeals at you to remind you it's dinner time, consider how much of that behaviour might be anticipatory of your own, and how much intention might be involved in their communication.

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