Saturday, October 18, 2008
What does a dog say?
I'm sure you all remember when you were little kids and your parents asked you a whole series of questions like "what does a dog say?", "what does a duck say?", etc. Well, Agathe Jacquillat and Tomi Vollauschek, graphic designers who met at the Royal College of Art in London while taking a post-grad course on Communication Art and Design, have taken that childhood game a step farther, possibly in another direction.
Jacquillat and Vollauschek are responsible for the delightfully intriguing and addictive site bzzzpeek , where they have collected voice samples of children from around the world responding to questions like "what does a dog say?". The best thing about this is that their responses are only occasionally "woof woof". Russian dogs say "guff guff", Japanese dogs say "wua wua", and goodness knows what Korean dogs say. Korean onomatopoeia tends to be the strangest for American English listeners.
All this serves to bring home a point that I haven't made yet, one that is often overlooked in Cognitive Science; language is not just for communicating, it's also for perceiving. It's fair to assume that Russian dogs bark like American dogs (they have the same vocal apparatus), so it must not be that American dogs make "woof woof" sounds any more than Russian dogs make "guff guff" sounds. Rather, where American speakers hear "woof woof", Russian speakers hear "guff guff". The language(s) we speak influence what we are able to hear (and communicate). For more on this topic, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and Karen Mattock.
I really appreciate this sort of work because it marries principles of good design (simple intuitive complexity) with novel, unpretentious human-sized science.