Elephant Can 'Speak' Korean

Koshik apparently learned to make human sounds to bond with zookeepers

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 2, 2012 6:15 AM CDT

(Newser) – Who needs Doctor Doolittle when animals are learning to speak human languages? First a Beluga whale learns how to say "out" to a diver, and now an elephant in a South Korean zoo has learned to say five words, reports the BBC. Koshik, a male Asian elephant, can "say" hello, no, sit down, lie down, and good in Korean, sounds he makes by placing the end of his trunk in his mouth to raise the pitch and control its sound. Angela Stoeger, an Austrian expert in elephant communication, saw a video of Koshik on YouTube, traveled to South Korea to check out the perspicacious pachyderm, and found his sounds did in fact measure up as speech.

Not that Koshik necessarily understands those words. For seven years, Koshik was the only elephant in the zoo, so researchers think he learned to imitate human sounds to bond better with the zookeepers. "Humans were his only social contact—and we believe Koshik is using these vocalizations as a function to strengthen the social bonds with his companions, which are humans in this case," said Stoeger. You can read the original paper in Current Biology.

Koshik, a 22-year-old Asian elephant, at the Everland amusement park in Yongin, South Korea, can speak five words of Korean by placing his trunk in his mouth to modulate the sound.
Koshik, a 22-year-old Asian elephant, at the Everland amusement park in Yongin, South Korea, can speak five words of Korean by placing his trunk in his mouth to modulate the sound.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Koshik, a 22-year-old Asian elephant, at the Everland amusement park in Yongin, South Korea, can speak five words of Korean by placing his trunk in his mouth to modulate the sound.
Koshik, a 22-year-old Asian elephant, at the Everland amusement park in Yongin, South Korea, can speak five words of Korean by placing his trunk in his mouth to modulate the sound.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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Koshik, a male Asian elephant, answers his trainer with "Choah" (Korean for "good"). Koshik reportedly can say five Korean words.   (24FD2Rtjb0U)

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