The Dr Dolittle Challenge

Giving animals a voice of their own.

The Dr Dolittle Challenge
  • £119

    pledged of £5,000

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This project received pledges on Mon 16 Mar 2015
6 years ago

Well, I don't quite know what to say, and I'm a Linguist! 

But 'Thank you' just doesn't cover how I feel.  Gratitude is mixed up with excitement, as well as relief at receiving some monetary help and peer support for my research.

When I set out to study Animal Communication within Linguistics, after many, many years of reading in my own time and dreaming about taking it further, I was actually really nervous.  I believed that I would only be laughed at, insulted, and that no one else would see the value of the facts I keep coming across daily that lead me to believe that we vastly, and dangerously, underestimate other species.

Finding a fantastic University, like Bangor, that would allow me to take a chance and study the subject in some way was the first hurdle.  The next major obstacle is funding.  I am working incredibly hard with several part-time jobs, a lot of personal cut-backs, and now with raising this support too.  And each £1 gets me that much closer to getting through the MA so I can create the foundations to really push forward with my research at the next stage. 

But perhaps the biggest barrier of all is people's perception and awareness of animals and their cognitive capabilities.  There seem to be almost as many opinions on the subject of animals as there are people to have them. 

But it's not subjective versions of reality that I'm interested in.  I want to explore how animals communicate and what can they really do, how their minds actually work, in a scientific way.  This time, though, I plan not to interpret but to give the facts a chance to literally speak up.  And I am going to do this with a Linguistics background.  Because, let's face it, if you had to have an operation, you don't want a Biologist or a Gym Teacher, you want a surgeon!

Why am I doing all of this?  Why am I working so hard, especially on a subject that is new and could yield any kind of unexpected information?  To start with, languages in general interest me and I genuinely believe Animal Communication is a new important angle for studies on what language is, how we learn it, and how the brain works.  But it's about ethics for me too.

If I experiment in Language Acquisition on a toddler, and that toddler begins to cry, the experiment has to stop, right away.  Even years before that person has legal adult status, we listen.  But who is listening to animals when we slit their throats in slaughterhouses, when we tear a youth from its parent to live a life in factory conditions, when we imprison highly intelligent minds for the amusement of onlookers at zoos, when we stick needles into the eyes of what we otherwise deem to be pets, the same animals that we would love and protect?

Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there who do actually listen, who want to help.  Often, though, like myself in the past, it's not always easy to know what to do,  which charities to trust, how to fit volunteering into an already overstuffed life.  And I am a big believer in everyone, every individual, having the right to their own life, needs, and feelings.

Yet if you can't stand the suffering of others, how do you help?  The answer to me is incredibly simple now.  We carry on listening, but we learn to listen in the right ways.  We build a bridge of communication with other species, and we allow them to speak up for themselves. 

So many times I have read the charitable slogan: be a voice for animals.  Isn't it time we allowed them a voice of their own?

I challenge anyone to find it as easy to destroy entire rainforests when they can hear the counter arguments proposed by the forest's inhabitants themselves.  Or to beat a defenceless dog, when you can understand its cries for mercy.

It won't be easy to learn, anymore than it is to pack a tiny phrasebook and struggle through a holiday in a country with no English anywhere.  It also takes a lot of courage to listen, because we may not always like what we will hear. 

But if we are really going to earn the title we derived from our own species' name: 'humane', then we have no alternative but to find out if it is possible to break down this language barrier at last.

Your contributions are helping towards this, towards a real chance for animals to have rights, to be safe, to be acknowledged.  To be understood in a way every single one of us wants to feel. 

Maybe now you can start to see why I can't thank you enough for your help!

6 years, 1 month ago

'I truly believe she will change the way people treat and interact with animals' @Machins2

I couldn't agree more!!!

Though I love animals, it is not my place or anyone else's to guess how they feel or what they think, or even what their place is in the world. 

What I am trying to do is - finally - build a bridge of communication between all species, so that we can listen to what animals have to say for themselves.  

But it is unquestionable in my mind that, once they start speaking out, we will no longer be able to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to their needs!

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949). Article 19 states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

6 years, 1 month ago

'It's a great project and we wish you success with it!  The more we can understand animals the less we can deny their pain and suffering!' @rowdy_sanctuary

6 years, 1 month ago

The first time I spoke Cat:

After reading a very intriguing section in Chasing Doctor Dolittle by Dr Con Slobodchikoff, about his wife's observation that cats greet vocally in a certain way, I decided to try this out last night.

Not experienced around cats, I had no idea really what I was doing, except that I had to, as described, miaow gently with a rising intonantion at the end, almost like a question.

My target was a lovely-looking ginger and white cat that was walking with determination down my street, late in the evening, when I had just arrived at my front door. After the merest glimpse in my direction to ascertain I wasn't a predator, the cat cantered on, clearly having no intention of introducing himself anymore than I would normally approach a feline myself.

But with the aim of scientific study, and a desire to try to communicate with an animal after reading so much about it, I tried out the miaow.  It was an instant hit.  The cat looked straight at me, though with a cocked head as if to say in a very Robert De Niro way, 'Are you talking to me?'  All the while he kept on jogging. 

Ok, I've got his attention, so now I'll try again and see if anything happens.  The cat stopped dead and looked straight at me with an intensity that scared me.  Maybe, instead of the 'Hello' I was going for, I'd instead said, 'I have fish.'  Or maybe that was 'I am a fish.'

No movement on either side, so I called out again.  This time, the cat didn't hesitate in strutting straight over to me to sniff my shoe.  It was only a brief encounter, as the cat clearly had other business to attend to, and quickly moved on.

But for one moment, I was astounded.  I had successfully greeted and called over a member of another species with nothing other than one of their own calls.  It can only make you wonder about the entire world of possibilities that Animal Communication research will open up.  It's incredibly thrilling!


6 years, 1 month ago

So grateful for all the interest in my project. Have received a lot of messages from people asking how to sponsor me too, so I though I would write a little explanation here:

If you click on the purple 'Sponsor Project' button on the right column --->

You'll be taken to a list of pledge options.  You can choose £1 or more to give without a reward, or a higher fixed amount or more to donate and receive one of the rewards listed.

Paypal is the main payment option. 

You will make a pledge in advance, and payment will be taken from your account on 16th March 2015.

If you are going to choose a reward, please do make sure you leave your details on this project site, so I can make sure you receive them!

Thanks again for all your interest and support. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the animals!

6 years, 1 month ago

'Your project is extremely interesting and important. Please, keep us posted on your progress!' @projectdolittle 

6 years, 1 month ago

Caption competition! I want to hear your entries :-)

6 years, 1 month ago

6 years, 1 month ago

6 years, 1 month ago

I hope these things I came across recently make you laugh!

6 years, 1 month ago

I am so pleased with my A-grade mark for my first full postgrad module: Foundations of Linguistics :-)  This is especially the case as I am running on fumes at the moment, with as much part-time work as I can manage, my partner trying to find replacement work after being made suddenly redundant in January, no sleep, and of course hitting the books as hard as I can.

I look around at the other animals, though, the birds and squirrels foraging for their every meal, the sheep stuck out in the cold snow over winter without shelter, even the polite but often ignored homeless man stood day in day out by M&S, and I know my hard work has a purpose.  I am working to help make this world a more understanding and forgiving place, as well as more open-minded, to learn as much as possible about our home.

I really believe that animal communication is the biggest way we can do this.  It's not about handing over the keys of our kingdom to the rest of the animals.  It's about learning to share the playground, as we're told to do as children.

Now, I don't come from a privileged background; but I have always worked hard, strived to be a good person, and achieved some really great things.  But I'm purposefully not showing off my CV here, just what this research means to me.  In fact, talking to others, it means a lot to many people, and especially to the animals! 

Animal Communication, particularly within Linguistics, is research that really matters.  It can change the way we interact with nature, what we know of the planet, improve our own health and our happiness, and importantly the lives of so many different species.

I am dedicated to this.  I am giving this course my all, as well as giving back to my Welsh heritage too, while I study at the fantastic Bangor University and put myself through the paces of learning one of the hardest, and oldest, languages in the world: Cymraeg.

But I need your help please.  I need you to tweet about me, mention my project to family and friends, spread the word about animal communication.  I won't ask you to donate: that should be a choice for you to make, not me.  But I will ask you to support me and to support this research in other ways.

I want to keep updating you with animal communication and language facts.  I want to raise awareness for this research and what it can do for animals.  I want someone, even if it's not me, to pick up this torch and carry everyone forward to a more exciting and enlightening future.  I'm not normally one to vote for change.  But I can feel that this change is going to enormous but amazing.  

And I ask you to support that :-)

6 years, 1 month ago

Recently, I had to write an essay on semantics and polysemy, and I thought that I would share a little bit of the concepts and terminology with you lovely people, as you might enjoy word play as much as I do.

In a comical approach, then, the following is an example of semantic shift (or a change of meaning over time, though usually we're talking decades or centuries):

Baby: Bills is a funny word.

Young child: Bills are letters my dad gets. They make him sad.

Teenager: What are bills?

Adult: All I ever get through that door are bills!

To introduce a few instances of related terminology, and to keep up the theme, here are some examples:

Synonym (another word for the same idea):

Credit card company: Would it soften the blow if we changed the word bills to invoices instead?

Man: Not if you still want me to pay you money!

Antonym (another word for the opposite idea):

Opposite of bills? A winning lottery ticket!  Yes, I think that about covers it :-)

Hypernym (a more generic kind of thing at the top of a hierarchy, think someone who is hyper, or over the top):

'Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes.' A common saying, while it also crops up in Meet Joe Black.

Hyponym (I always think of a hippo, slipping below the waterline, as this means a more specific kind of thing in a lower place in a hierarchy):

I have bills coming out of my ears: energy bills, credit card bills, car bills, phone bills...

Homonym (looks and/or sounds like the same word but it has a very different meaning):

Bills - the written statement of money owed

Bills - drafts of proposed laws

The Bill - an old British police drama, very 80s!

Polysemy (this looks and sounds like the same word, and has, generally speaking, the same meaning every time it appears in speech.  But the idea conveyed is slightly altered in various contexts, taking on a different but clearly related sense, as in the phrase 'In every sense of the word'.):

Teenager: Bills show how much I've managed to spend this month!

Tired parent: Bills show how much I have to pay again this month!

I hope this shows you just a little why language can be really fun!

6 years, 1 month ago

Yet another fantastic comment from someone out there on the Twittersphere :-)

'I think your project is awesome!' @lindalumoore 

6 years, 2 months ago

Very busy with an array of assignments at the moment.  Hope to post a little about these soon. 

Also, I met the amazing Professor David Crystal, English Language expert and truly incredible speaker, as well as having the honour of being taught by the brilliant 'Brian Cox' of the language world, Professor Vyv Evans, who has just recently brought out his The Language Myth, which states, among other things, that language is a continuum between other animals and ourselves. 

We may be able to go much further than that when science fully explores the range of animal cognition and communication, the latter part of which is my intended focus.  But it's all a great step in the right direction!

Last but not least, I am volunteering as a university marker for the UK Linguistics Olympiad, encouraging schools to get involved in this fantastic, ground-breaking subject.  Check out the website if you'd like to know more:

I will update again soon.  Until then, please tell everyone you know about my project.  I'd like to get the word out as much as possible.  And if anyone can sponsor me too, that would be lovely!

6 years, 3 months ago

@Jo_amusingart has kindly offered 5 smaller 16x20" paintings as rewards for pledges of over £150.

To claim one of these rewards, please pledge with your name and leave a comment on this update if you pledge over £150.  The first 5 to do so will be honoured as with the other rewards for this project.

6 years, 3 months ago

Some really positive comments this project has been getting on my Twitter feed @AnimalLinguist:

Wonderful,interesting,and a worthy cause IF WE humans are intelligent enough to understand!!! Tweeted by @goodgolly007

My pleasure! Such interesting work, the kind many of my friends will find fascinating! Tweeted by @DiscoParakeet

Please RT & Support this hardworking young lady Jenny, @AnimalLinguist is crowdfunding on Hubbub

#NOW FOLLOWING U ,think what u do is the max,keep up this IMPORTANT work so rewarding. xxx Tweeted by @goodgolly007

All animal lovers are behind you... they just have to have faith in the possibilities Tweeted by @Jo_amusingart

I am excited about any futher research in #animalcommunication . We can help many animals overcome past traumas with it. Tweeted by @catlannablog

Check out and support @AnimalLinguist The Dr Dolittle Challenge via @hubbubnet Tweeted by @ForeverHomeInt

Now have a book on foxes to study their behaviour,ready in case another turns up! :) Tweeted by @Lighthouse148

wow what an interesting study you have there good luck with it Jenny Tweeted by @AlfieBeardie

6 years, 3 months ago

Have come across a great new aspect of communication research: the wood wide web, as whimsically named by the BBC.

But if we can research and reveal communication, fairly sophisticated communication, amongst fungi and plants, is it that much of a stretch to believe that animals may well have some form of language?

6 years, 3 months ago

Overwhelmed by the support I have gained for my project so far.! It really does make a big difference.  It has really touched me to know that other people believe in the project, and, most importantly, want to help animals have a better, happier future. On their behalf - at the moment at least! - thank you to you all.

In the meantime, I have been reading about Language Acquisition, mostly studies of children, but information and theories that can be extended to animals too.  This field is a branch of Psycholinguistics, which explores how the brain processes language and thought, and as such is an integral part of this project.

6 years, 3 months ago

Hello everyone!  A big thank you to those who have already begun to support me, including those who are RTing like mad on Twitter.  Lovely to think so many people care about animals and their future, which is what this research project (and the rest of my career) is about.

I received stellar results on my very first uni assignment and am busy beavering away at the next one, all the while working on my animal communication research.

I have also been in discussion with The Vegan Society, who are interested in my research and may want an article from me for their magazine, while I am already booked for a couple of talks at an animal welfare conference in May, the organisers of which kindly asked me to present.

Needless to say, I am very excited about what 2015 may hold! 

Choose reward

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Select this reward if you just want to donate to the project without receiving a reward.

5 claimed

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Online quarterly newsletter with updates of my course achievements and progress in Animal Communication as a whole, for the duration of my three-year MA, provided I am kept up-to-date with your contact details.

6 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 April 2015

Pledge £25 or more

Be named as a funder and supporter of my research in my MA dissertation, which will be completed and assessed in autumn 2017, provided I am kept up-to-date with your contact details.

1 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 December 2015

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A cartoon of your favourite animal or pet by artist benauld, illustrator of the artwork within this project, to be agreed with the artist in advance.

0 claimed of 10

Estimated delivery: 1 December 2015

Pledge £50 or more

Online Latin tutoring: the basics. A short course comprising of a brief history of the language and its people, a guide to pronunciation, an introduction to the grammar, a basic exploration of common vocabulary, a summary of how Latin has affected modern European languages, and a guided translation of some well-known Latin poetry, sayings, and political prose.

0 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 July 2015

Pledge £100 or more

Entrance tickets for two adults to a local animal sanctuary or rescue, to be agreed upon. For example, the Seal Sanctuary in UK, Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre UK, Brightside Farm Sanctuary in Australia, and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in the USA.

0 claimed of 7

Estimated delivery: 1 June 2015

Pledge £350 or more

A painting of your favourite animal or pet by gifted artist and animal-lover: To be agreed with the artist in advance.

0 claimed of 5

Estimated delivery: 1 December 2015

Pledge £500 or more

Signed copy of my dissertation upon completion and University assessment in autumn 2017, as well as being named as a funder and supporter within the dissertation, provided I am kept up-to-date with your contact details.

0 claimed of 3

Estimated delivery: 1 December 2015