A zoo elephant in South Korea, can speak Korean out loud, researchers say. The pachyderm is capable of saying "hello," "good," "no," "sit down" and "lie down" — all by using its trunk to do the work of lips in a process scientists don’t fully understand.
The elephant likely does not understand the actual meaning of what he says, researchers said.
Past reports have suggested both African and Asian elephants were capable of vocal mimicry like parrots. African elephants have been known to imitate the sound of truck engines, and a male Asian elephant living in a Kazakhstan zoo was said to utter sounds resembling Russian and Kazakh, but that case was never investigated scientifically.
Scientists investigating an Asian elephant known as Koshik say the beast can imitate human speech, pronouncing words in Korean, and those who know the language can readily understand Koshik. He accomplished this in a very unusual way — using his trunk stuck inside his mouth. [Watch Koshik Speak Korean
Elephants cannot use their lips to make sounds like humans do, since their upper lips are fused with their noses to form their trunks. Instead, Koshik somehow controls the sounds coming from him by moving his trunk inside his throat.
"We do not really know what Koshik is doing exactly," said researcher Angela Stoeger-Horwath, a bioacoustician at the University of Vienna.
The researchers asked 16 native Korean speakers to write down what they heard when listening to playbacks of Koshik's sounds. The elephant's vocabulary apparently consists of five words — "annyong" ("hello"), "choah" ("good"), "aniya" ("no"), "anja" ("sit down") and "nuo" ("lie down") — although his ability to imitate their consonants often proved weak.
When scientists analyzed Koshik's sounds, they were clearly different from the usual calls of elephants and exactly copied the pitch, timbre and other details of human voices.
more & video