UM professor tests dolphins for language

Courtesy: Neyooxet Greymorning

MISSOULA, Mont. - Right now, the United Nations estimates nearly 2,500 languages are vulnerable, endangered or extinct. As this number grows, revitalizing indigenous languages is becoming more critical.

One University of Montana professor is answering the call and is on a mission to help others save languages.

Professor Neyooxet Greymorning developed a new language acquisition method and has trained others in it around the world.

In order to see how effective it is, he spent the summer in the Bahamas teaching dolphins Arapaho. 

Greymorning created a method called Accelerated Second Language Acquisition. 

When teaching the dolphins, he played a recording of a single word in Arapaho, like ball. The dolphin would recognize the word and swim to the ball.

The dolphin is then rewarded for being correct. 

Greymorning made sure he was teaching, instead of just training, by randomizing and changing words and pictures to eliminate any patterns.

He bases his method off how a child learns its first language, by immersion of hearing sounds and associating it with different objects and actions, rather than reading and writing. 

In the past, the professor's received pushback from different groups saying his method couldn't work on their language. So, he tried teaching dolphins to test his method. 

"If I can show this works with another species, then no one has any excuse to say well it can't really work... so that's why the dolphins," Greymorning shared. 

Of all animals, Greymorning worked with dolphins because of other scientists' previous work with the species and language. 

He wanted to see if dolphins could learn his code since scientists haven't been able to learn theirs. 

So, can dolphins learn language?

The professor said it's inconclusive at this point, but there are signs of promise. 

Greymorning's goal by teaching these dolphins is to gain exposure for his method and help different groups revitalize native languages.

For more on Greymorning's work and his method, click here. 

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