You know how you sometimes talk to your cat and you're like, "meow, meoowwwww." And then you're like, oh man, what if I just said something really mean or crazy
Yeah well, don't worry, you probably didn't. Because animals don't have language.
At least that's what I read when I was researching this topic. And I was like:
And the science articles said back: YES. That is our actual secret theory of dolphins!
Except they actually said something more like:
Communication is essentially just transferring information, right? Most species are biologically programmed to be able to transfer information in their own ways, mainly about things that will either help or get in the way of gene-spreading and survival and things.
Even humans who never learn language can communicate in this biological way.
Language, however, is a whole - other - thing.
No species is born knowing language, it has to be manually taught. And to be able to learn it, you need the capacity to deal with information on a conceptual level.
Conceptual thought itself doesn't seem to be limited to humans, BUT humans access it (or so it seems) at a uniquely advanced level. Because of some human brain mutation back in the day, we think.
How is conceptual thought linked to language? Well, try to mentally experience or communicate a more abstract concept like 'and' without using any form of language.
Conceptual communication would be vague and slow. Like a long and painful game of pictionary.
So human brains somehow came up with a way to give concepts their own independent forms, by creating 'building blocks' of sounds or symbols and collectively assigning variations of these blocks to different concepts.
Unlike with preprogrammed 'biological' communication, the link between symbols used and the subject matter they represent in language is random and can easily change.
Also, because there are infinite permutations of infinite potential symbols, there is potential for infinite meaning to keep being created. Take this example of trying to immediately represent the concepts on the left hand column below:
No animals have ever been observed to behave in a way that suggests this type of conceptual, systematic communication is at work, or even neurologically possible. So we have assumed that animals, intelligent as they are, don't use language.
But I bet that's exactly what they want us to think...