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Grunt, Talk, Squawk
A group of early hominids sit around a fire, using a wordless language to describe a hunting expedition. A pair of cuttlefish use patterns on their skin to interact.

This piece uses fictional stories describing different forms of language as a touchstone to draw a connection between homo-sapiens and other animal life. By imaginining these short scenes, i hoped to  provide an opportunity for the viewer to begin cultivate a sense of inter-species empathy, reflect on their place in the history of life on earth, as well as begin to imagine and engage with the complexity of non-human lived experiences.


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Scientists speculate that early humans used an early form of language sometimes referred to as “hmmmm”, a proto-language that had the qualities of being “Holistic, manipulative, multi-modal, musical and mimetic”, as far back as two million years ago. 

they are together around the fire. it has been burning since the storm moved away and they made the ring to contain it. The oldest among them is "sing-telling". She puffs up her chest and raises her arms, bent at the elbows above her head and lets out a high falling note, her face animated, and they know the bear the hunting party saw on their last journey was angry and afraid. She makes a small circle in the dirt and indicates it with an encircling motion. she moves around the form she made in the dirt, indicating it and its unmovement. singing sad notes and notes of wrath.

The group looks at their own children and they share the fear of the bear, hold their children close and imagine her sorrow.

The words “who” and “I” might have origins that stretch back some 77 thousand years. At this time, humans were only just beginning to fashion tools. Around this same time, humanity was experiencing a population bottleneck, possibly due to the eruption of a supervolcano, and came closer to extinction than at any other point in history. 

it’s cold, colder than it should be. the sun is at its full height but he’s behind strange clouds that make it like the moon but red and burning, round like a drop of blood and without warmth. snow on a single branch drops onto the ground with a thud, then nothing but gauzy silence. A lone figure looks out across a field towards a line of trees.

a twig cracks.


a figure emerges from the trees, cheeks red and huffing, but calm. the first figure is tense and quiet, hidden now in the long grass.

a long pause.



The familiar voice. recognition, warmth. carrying berries and a crumpled flying thing to keep them alive in the strangeness of this new and unreckonable season.
"Despite the number of different languages in the world, infants learn language in a universal, relatively predictable pattern. Milestones in infant language development include communicating at birth by crying, cooing at 1-2 months, babbling at 6 months, use of gestures and word comprehension at 8-12 months, speaking rst words at 13 months, a rapid growth in vocabulary by 18 months, and signi cant increased word understanding and speaking of two-word utterances such as “my toy” between 18-24 months." 
—Kimberly Kopko, Ph.D., Cornel University Department of Human Development

the world is still formless. a river of shapes and colors and smells. some are familiar, feel safe. 

[they cannot even begin to imagine that within their brain, new connections are being made at a rate of billions per day].

Each day they are visited by the same presence, the same configuration of shapes hover above zher and each day zhe recognizes more. the shapes melt into a configuration that makes zher happy, they begin to recognize the shapes as a face, as a familiar face. thoughtlessly they mimic the configuration, what zhe will someday be able to name a smile.

This morning their eyes lock on a shape which fills the frame of the crib, a big dark shape with a smell and a deep voice and suddenly that entity means a sound. the sound it means is “da” and “da” is the sound that is this gentle presence. they make the sound.
Politicians employ “dog-whistles” in order to activate deep-seated and heavily ingrained, often racist misconceptions in the minds of their audiences as a means of control.

The candidate is giving a speech. the best speech of his career. bombastic words like “freedom” leap from his thick throat. words that are so much more effective when paired with “they” “take” “get”
He conjures up centuries of fear with a single word. images of darkness, of encroachment, alienation, interlopers. summoning the image of the other. like casting a spell which draws its power from a history misconstrued. They speak to the part of the crowd’s minds what are locked away, simmering under the surface.
No single word is out of place, can be pointed to as a direct attack. yet the way the words come together is refined, weaponized ideology.
Crows are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. their vocalizations can communicate danger, announce identity, and call other crows to assemble.

pick pick pick the crow gingerly flattens a few unruly feathers under her right wing with her beak and looks around. The world is going yellow and red and brisk now. she’s less tired by flying but there’s less food.

the quiet is broken by a distant call. rising, ragged. alarm. The shape of the call indicates danger.

Head cocks to the side, looking up, a stain on the deep sky. predator. but leaving the territory.
Quiet. She watches the shape of the interloper rise over a distant ridge and disappear from view. Quiet. 

Caw-Caw-Caw. The danger has passed.

Caw, gentler, falling. announcing presence. slowly, several more voices break through the cool air, a rising crechendo. their calls indicate a call to gather.
Dolphins are hypothesized to recognize eachother through unique identifying clicks and whistles that are analogous to human names. Human activity such as deep sea drilling and sonar pings disrupt this communication.

In the blue of midday the bull is enjoying a full belly.

a dense stream of clicks and whistles. a long swim away. a whole history washing over him. he knows who made this sound, an individual who he hasn’t seen in some time. associations of comfort, cooperation, separated by time and distance. he does a few swoops seen by noone, just for the joy of finding a friend.

crashing out of the deep, a shattering sound. an unbelievable sound. alien and overwhelming. shock. pain! 

silence. he hears nothing, sees only the mute and formless expanse of ocean. He is alone.
Cuttlefish communicate using a combination of body posture and intricate, shifting, flashing patterns of light and dark on their skin.

it is dark. the faintest of light filters down through falling silt. with a breath she moves backward, kicking up a small cloud of sand from the sea floor.

she feels a stray current and with another puff she rotates her body to meet the gaze of another, like her, and unlike. she’s already gone mottled, tense patterns rippling across her skin.

the other adopts a contrapuntal position. he is striped now, alternating light and dark, pattern reversing and changing. Recognition. Acceptance. her color melts into a uniform grey.
Grunt, Talk, Squawk

Grunt, Talk, Squawk

A group of early hominids sit around a fire, using a wordless language to describe a hunting expedition. A pair of cuttlefish use patterns on the Read More