His name is Koshik, he is an elephant in the Everland Zoo in South Korea, and he can speak Korean. Koshik puts his trunk in his mouth and he is able vocalize, in this not so normal way. His vocabulary includes “annyong” (hello), “anja” (sit down), “aniya” (no), “nuo” (lie down) and “choah” (good). This is not some sci-fi movie equivalent of Dumbo, finally being able to actually express himself, but it is actually an honest way for Koshik to socialize.
Koshik, for seven years, was the only elephant at the Everland Zoo, and during his critical development stage as a juvenile, researchers believe that Koshik started imitating human speech out of a need to socialize. The only social contact that Koshik had at the time were his human companions, and his effort to socialize even led him imitate the pitch and tempo of his trainers.
What is not clear is how much of his speech Koshik understands. Though he knows how to say “sit” and knows to sit when it is said to him, Koshik does not expect people to sit when he speaks it. His use of language is a bridge or a social tool, that helps him connect with his human counterparts. Since 2002 Koshik has had a female elephant as his companion and he communicates with her through the traditional calls, but he also continues to speak the Korean utterances with the people who come around him.
This is so interesting to me, and I think it underscores how important language and communication are to humans. I think it is something that we take for granted constantly, and that the communication process is drastically undervalued in our culture. There is so much about this world that we do not know, and that we assume, it is refreshing to see just how complicated and beautiful this world is.