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Elephant which speaks: Rare. One which speaks Korean: Even Rarer

Seen a house fly, a horse fly, never seen an elephant so fly

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A captive Asian elephant called Koshik can do more with his trunk than just spray water at zoo visitors - he can use it to speak KOREAN.

Boffins studied claims that Koshik's vocabulary extends to five words in the native tongue of his adoptive home and found they were true. The words, translated to English, are "hello", "sit down", "no", "lie down" and "good".

"Human speech basically has two important aspects, pitch and timbre," Dr Angela Stoeger of the University of Vienna told Current Biology. "Intriguingly, the elephant Koshik is capable of matching both pitch and timbre patterns: he accurately imitates human formants as well as the voice pitch of his trainers."

As the last remaining member of the order Proboscidea - the rest of the world's long-nosed mammalians snuffed it long ago - elephantidae can use their sizeable larynx to generate low-pitched sounds. Since Koshik can't follow Lauren Bacall's advice to put his lips together and blow - he doesn't have lips - he has to vocalise the words by stuffing his trunk in his mouth.

Starved of contact with elephants in his formative years, the impressionable dumbo listened to his trainers' voices - the only social contact he had - and started to copy them to try to create a bond.

The scientists analysed Koshik's banter and detected clear similarities to human speech but also real differences with the typical sound of elephant calls.

They asked Korean speakers to listen to recordings of his voice and write down what they'd heard.

"We found a high agreement concerning the overall meaning, and even the Korean spelling of Koshik's imitations," said Stoeger.

However she doesn't think the cunning linguist can understand what he's saying, otherwise his vocabulary may have extended to "where the ladies at?" and "is it pub o'clock?"

Koshik joins a growing list of loquacious creatures - only last month El Reg revealed "NOC", a white whale in captivity in California, had been getting chatty with divers and told one of them to get out of his pool. ®

Bootnote

Non-Blackadder fans wondering about the headline are directed to the episode Ink and Incapability, in which the following excellent lines occur:

Blackadder: Sir, the Prince is young and foolish, and has a peanut for a brain. Give me just a few minutes and I will deliver both the book and his patronage.

Dr Johnson: Oh, will you, sir... I very much doubt it. A servant who is an influence for the good is like a dog who speaks: very rare.

B: I think I can change his mind.

Dr J: Hmpf! Well, I doubt it, sir. A man who can change a prince's mind is like a dog who speaks *Norwegian*: even rarer! I shall be at Mrs. Miggins' Literary Salon in twenty minutes. Bring the book there. (exits)

Have a good weekend - Ed.

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