Big Think recently posted the interview “Do Dogs Speak Human?” with David Bellos, Director of Princeton’s Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. Bellos explains a process called “fast mapping” used by babies and dogs to acquire language.
Even though he does not mention it by name, Bellos goes beyond vocabulary skills and includes communicative cues such as emotion recognition, which add to the complexity of language and communication systems.
Translatability is just one element in communication. Dogs might not understand the meaning of specific words, but they will know if they’re in trouble after they’ve been playing with toilet paper all afternoon, by the way we call their name.
Breaking the communication algorithm into separate pieces can provide a better understanding of the role each element plays in the communication system. This is evident when we use Google Translate or similar tools to understand what someone is saying in a another language; it is useful to a certain extent, but introducing other elements such as emotion recognition can increase our understanding exponentially.
Dog lovers know this very well; dogs can read human, sometimes better than we do.