The language of sound: Exploring interaction between people and birds

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


This paper considers what happens when people and birds interact, particularly through sound. How are the actions of birds in response to people interpreted and explained? What assumptions about birds and their relations to humans do these reveal? Encounters explored include people whistling to or playing music with birds and scientists and birders using playback to elicit responses. The way that such interactions are explained in part reflects ideas about the relative intelligence of birds and their ability to understand what the encounter with a human is about. For example it might be assumed that birds have no ability to appreciate the difference between a wink and a twitch in a human, to borrow from Clifford Geertz. But explanation is also grounded in ideas that people have about the sounds that birds make, for example whether these are analogous to language or music or if they are an expression of an emotional state, such as alarm. Underpinning these explanations are assumptions about framing: that is, how participants communicate what they consider the interaction to be about. Most studies of framing in communication involve interactions between members of the same or very similar species, and within humans the same ‘culture’. But what are the possibilities for framing in encounters between humans and birds? This paper speculates on these possibilities and offers a comparative analysis of interpretations of human – bird interactions, taking in a range of ethnographic and ethological material.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2009
EventMinding Animals (2009) - Newcastle, Australia
Duration: 12 Jul 200918 Jul 2009


ConferenceMinding Animals (2009)


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