I have recently begun reading about human language and how it works. An obvious question that sprang to mind relates to efforts to communicate with other animals. I read Irene Pepperberg's book about her experiences with Alex the parrot, and I have seen video of interaction with Koko the gorilla. I've also heard of the bonobo Kanzi and briefly looked at the Dolphin Project's website. What occurs to me though is that human language appears to depend on certain evolved brain structures and cultural influences. Chomsky describes the idea of a universal grammar underpinning human language in which innate brain structures enable human beings to intuitively grasp sentence structure and meaning. Thus there is a sense in which human capability far outstrips other animals capabilities. Although for example other primates have homologues of structures such as Wernicke's and Broca's areas etc and can use vocalisations and body language to communicate, and dolphins appear to have a language that permits communication, how close to human communication is that of other animals? Here I am not talking about human thinking, more about the purpose of communication. If communication facilitates sharing and building knowledge or understanding something about the internal mental state of another, do other animals do this or are they restricted to something rather more immediate (eg alarm calls, mating calls)? In watching Koko communicate, I don't get a sense that she is actually doing what we do - it seems to me to be more a ritualised behaviour in which certain symbols have been associated with certain interactions. Communication of a sort, but not one with any flexibility. Koko often seems to sign without attending to the actual context - it is the keepers that assign that. For example, she seems in some cases to sign without looking at the people she is communicating with, which seems at odds with the human process of communication. Great apes are known to use gaze following to infer something about the behaviours of others, but I'm not sure whether social interaction in apes requires or prohibits meeting each others eyes so I may be misinterpreting what's happening. My question then is, what is the general position of science in respect to non-human animal communication, and do those cases of animals communicating by sign language or vocalisations (eg Alex) actually illustrate true communication? Are they really talking to us?