One of the psychology case-studies I taught last year involved experiments done by Susan Savage-Rumbaugh into whether chimps could be taught language. The results are pretty impressive. Take a look at this clip to see for yourself. But most commentators believe that - although to an extent all animals communicate, and although some can master quite sophisticated language - their mastery of it is different to ours, which is hardly surprising when you think about it.
Earlier this week I was sent an email from the childrens' communication charity I Can asking if I'd help raise awareness of what they do. Over 1 million UK children have communication difficulties of some kind; these children find it hard to express themselves, make friends, follow instructions and integrate. But finding help isn't always easy which is where I Can comes in. The charity has launched a new enquiry service helping parents both to check their own child's communication milestones and to find out how to support a child with a known problem. Here's an extract from their press release:
"Parents and practitioners who have used the service say they have found it really useful to talk directly to a speech and language therapist and to gain information about speech, language and communication development. They have also appreciated receiving information about training, research and other organisations that can offer help and advice.
"Call 020 7843 2544 or email email@example.com to book your free and confidential call-back from a speech and language therapist. If you would prefer an email response to your questions please email your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Find out more about what this service can offer at www.ican.org.uk/help."
As recent events have shown, people deprived of normal means of communication often don't just shut up shop and stop trying to get through to the outside world. Sooner or later they find ways to communicate that don't involve the written or spoken word, and aren't always to the benefit of the rest of us.
Time to start listening.