Written by manen_lyset.
Human beings are horrible communicators. A simple misunderstanding can end a relationship or start a bar fight. If you want proof, look no further than how we interact with our young. Parents spend countless minutes –hours, even– trying to figure out what their babies are crying about. Do they need a nap? Do they want to be fed? Burped? Rocked? It’s such a common issue that it’s become a sitcom trope. The hapless husband or unintended babysitter frantically go through a list of possible solutions, often times failing miserably. Honestly, it seems like it boils down to guesswork. It’s not our fault; babies are stupid. They can’t just tell us what they want, right?
Want to know just how bad we are at communicating with our young? Let’s take a moment to look at the animal kingdom. Animals kick our asses when it comes to communicating with one another. Think about it for a moment: when’s the last time you saw an animal confused as to the needs of its infant? Take your hypothetical cat, Muffins, for instance. Muffins just gave birth to a litter of kittens. How often do you hear those kittens wailing for hours on end while Muffins desperately tries to figure out what’s wrong? Never. If Muffins is within earshot, she’ll go to her meowling kitten and automatically know what the fluffbags want. She knows the difference between an “I’m lonely” mew and a “MILK NOW!” mew. That’s because babies, whether they be furry, scaly, or of the fleshy variety, share a universal language.
That’s right: we humans are born with a small vocabulary to convey our basic needs, but most parents don’t even realize it. This language is the same no matter where you are on the planet or what culture you belong to. Every single baby on earth is born with the same set of cries that convey the same exact information to others of its species. Animals seem to be more in-tune with these primitive calls, whether it be because of superior hearing, instinct, or perhaps they’re just less distracted, what with their lack of a mortgage and whatnot. Human parents, on the other hand, rarely acknowledge the different cries. After a while, if the baby realizes it is not understood, it will stop using this universal language and resort to simply wailing like a banshee.
Linguistic experts have studied these cries and have managed to identify six different noises, five of which have been successfully mapped:
- I’m sleepy
- I’m hungry
- I need to be burped
- I’m uncomfortable / in pain
- I’m gassy (or bowel-related things)
There is one vocalisation that has not yet been mapped. It’s the very low, gurgle-like cry that babies make from time to time. It’s not a loud sound at all--- almost as though the babies don’t want to be heard. When they do it, they’ll often stare unblinking at the corner of the room, eyes fixed on a single spot. No matter what the experts have tried, they’ve never been able to decipher the meaning of this call.
Last week, my little girl started making that very same cry. I tried feeding her, playing with her, rocking her, singing to her, changing her, and even adjusting the thermostat several times. Nothing helped. She just kept staring at the cupboard as she gurgled and sniffled so quietly I almost didn’t realize she was crying at first. It was my daughter that prompted me to do a bit of research on the subject, which brings us back to the topic of animals. You see, recently, a Zoologist from Duke University made a startling discovery shortly after the birth of her first son. That low gurgle? It’s astonishingly similar to one particular sound made by baby chimps. Care to take a guess what that sound means? That’s right: danger.
I can’t help but wonder what kind of danger my little girl sees that I don’t.