Talking with Alex: Logic and Speech in Parrots; Exploring Intelligence; Scientific American Presents; by Pepperberg; 6 Page(s)
"Bye. I'm gonna go eat dinner. I'll see you tomorrow," I hear Alex say as I leave the laboratory each night. What makes these comments remarkable is that Alex is not a graduate student but a 22-year-old Grey parrot.
Parrots are famous for their uncanny ability to mimic human speech. Every schoolchild knows "Polly wanna cracker," but the general belief is that such vocalizations lack meaning. Alex's evening good-byes are probably simple mimicry. Still, I wondered whether parrots were capable of more than mindless repetition. By working with Alex over the past two decades, I have discovered that parrots can be taught to use and understand human speech. And if communication skills provide a glimpse into an animal's intelligence, Alex has proved that parrots are about as smart as apes and dolphins.