All animals use some form of communication, although some animal communication is more complex than others. Animal language is any form of communication that shows similarities to human language; however, there are significant differences. Some animals use signs, signals, or sounds to communicate. Lexigrams, or figures and symbols that represent words, are commonly used by chimpanzees and baboons, while animals such as birds and whales use song to communicate among one another. Bees uses complex “dances” to convey information about location. Other animals use odors or body movements to communicate.
Communication in both animals and humans consists of signals. Signals are sounds or gestures that have some meaning to those using them. The meaning is often self-evident based on context: for example, many animals roar, growl, or groan in response to threats of danger; similarly, humans may wave their arms or scream in the event of something dangerous. These signals in these situations are designed to let others in the species know that something is wrong and the animal or human needs help.
Human communication consists of both signals and symbols. Symbols are sounds or gestures that have a specific meaning to a group of people. This meaning could be cultural, group-related, or even related between two specific people. For example, two people may create a “secret” handshake, or a group may develop a passcode that only members are aware of. Symbols, unlike signals, must be taught and learned; they are not instinctual or self-evident.