Talking animal

From Academic Kids

Missing image
WPA poster by Kenneth Whitley, 1939

The talking animal or speaking animal term, in general, refers to any form of animal which can talk or conduct speech. This can by itself be interpreted in several manners, as listed in the below sections.


Imitation of speech

The term may have a nearly literal meaning, by referring to animals which can imitate human speech, though not necessarily possessing an understanding of what they may be mimicking. The most common example of this would be the parrot, which can learn to speak either through exposure or human training.

The speech made by these animals are usually not used for communication, but rather a way of self-defence or pointing out territory to others. In captivity however these animals may actually use it as a way to communicate with their human trainers or owners.

An animal language

To take this literally, this would refer to certain species or groups of animals which have a pronounced way of vocal communication, hence having the ability to conduct speech between its members with an understanding of what they are communicating. Although such a prospect may seem unlikely to many, certain more intelligent animals, such as the dolphin and the ape, have shown to make sounds at each other with a marked repitition in vocal patterns, which strongly suggests that they are indeed communicating with each other using their own language. This is widely discussed and investigated.


Humans are referred to as a talking animal as a paradoxical statement.


Talking animals are a common theme in fiction, especially in mythology and folk tales. Fictional talking animals often are anthropomorphic, possessing human-like qualities but appearing as an animal. The usage of talking animals enable storytellers to combine the basic characteristics of the animal with human behaviour: for example in the Three Little Pigs, the supposed animal rapacity of the wolf is enhanced by giving it the human ability to think and make plans in tricking the three pigs. Other examples include Little Red Riding Hood and the Bremen Town Musicians.

The storyteller may use talking animals for various reasons. It could be intended for a younger audience (such as Richard Scarry's illustrated books), or as a metaphor to show the personality of certain men or groups (Art Spiegelman's Maus depicts Jews as mice, the German as cats and the Polish as pigs, amont others). There may also be other reasons, such as for the sake of satire in Animal Farm, or artistic purposes.

Fictional talking animals may be roughly classified into the following categories, depending on the degree how talk influences their behavior. Of course, many cases may be something in between; the classification below is only a frame of reference.

Talking animals which are still animals

The animal retains its original form without much change, other than being able to speak. It may only speak as a narration for the reader's convenience. An example is the donkey of Balaam in the Book of Numbers.

Animals interacting with men

A good number of old literature involves animals which come to speak with humans, such as in Aesop's Fables and several mythologies, including Greek and Chinese.

Numerous modern science fiction and fantasy stories intermix human and animal characters. In C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, the world of Narnia is ruled by a talking lion by the name of Aslan, and many small characters are talking woodland animals, both of which who interact with both the humans riddled around Narnia, and the children who act as the protagonists of the books. In one of the world's depicted in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials novels, each human character is accompanied by a daemon in the form of a talking animal, and the race of armored talking bears plays a major part in the stories.

Animals that portray humans

Most people in the industries of professional illustration, cartooning, and animation refer to these types of animal characters as talking animals or funny animals. However, members of furry fandom sometimes refer to this variety of talking animals as furries.

Simulated humans

There are numerous series of children's books, such as the Berenstain Bears series, where the characters are written and drawn as animals in order to attract a younger audience. In this scenario the stories may be told with the characters changed to normal humans, and quite possibly the plot will suffer no major alteration. Most of such characters act no different as compared to men. A good example of this would be The Wind in the Willows, where Mr. Toad, who lives in Toad Hall, takes a few talking badgers living under a river bank on a ride in his motor car.

Exaggerated humans

In many fables, each particular animal typically represents a certain human trait, traditionally associated with it. For example, a fox is supposed to be cunning, a hare is supposed to be a coward (whenever it is brave or smart, this is only with the goal to create a paradox with respect to the common expectation). In these tales, the names of the animals are simply their capitalized names of species: Mr. Fox, Mr. Hare, etc.

Humanized animals

Such animals fall between the previous two categories, that of an animal which posesses both human and animal characteristics. An example is Peter Rabbit, who dresses in a little English coat but engages in the very rabbit-like activity of stealing and eating carrots in the farmer's field, then being chased away by the horrid old man and having a nasty tumble which sore badly along the way.

See also


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