At a school where I once taught some of the senior staff played an interesting game. Starting with the letter A, and working through the alphabet, they’d find an obscure word, such as
bailiwick and use it in meetings with the principal.
Eventually the principal would pick up on this word and start using it himself, at which point the senior staff would abandon it and move on to the next word. Meanwhile the principal would use the word in general staff meetings and we’d all be wondering what on earth he was talking about, what the word meant and where he’d got it from.
It’s been my observation that when people hang out together for long enough they tend to start sounding alike, picking up words, phrases and intonations from one another. Notice how partners tend to use the same words and expressions, for example.
It’s also really obvious with global culture and the
words of the moment. When I was a teen things were
far-out, often with
man at the end. Far out, man.
I can’t imagine any teen today would be caught dead using those words. Instead they have their own. Awesome, bro!
But it’s not just people who ‘catch’ and share expressions: killer whales have been found to adopt dolphin ‘talk’ too when the two species hang out together.
Apparently Killer Whale vocalizations include clicks, whistles and pulsed calls that sound like short spurts of sound followed by silence. Dolphins sound very similar, but they make more clicks and whistles, while killer whales produce more pulsed calls.
Put the two species together, and whales learn from dolphins.
[Researchers] collected sound recordings from three killer whales that had been housed with bottlenose dolphins for several years, and compared them with sounds collected from seven killer whales and control bottlenose dolphins, which had not commingled.
Essentially, the killer whales that interacted with the bottlenose dolphins had a higher proportion of clicks and whistles, and a lower proportion of pulsed calls than the control whales did.
Killer whales can also learn entirely new sounds, the researchers found. One killer whale living alongside dolphins learned how to make a chirp sequence that a human caretaker had taught the dolphins before the whale’s arrival.
The article doesn’t mention whether it also worked the other way round. Do dolphins start to sound more like killer whales after a while? That’d be interesting to know.