Pullum rolls his eyes and makes his signature clicking sequence at the BBC’s rewarming of a badly described dolphin story:
“Scientists have found further evidence that dolphins call each other by ‘name’,” we are told in the first line. Moreover, says the article, “It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.” (It was mainly Dr Janik and the BBC who suspected this; Mark Liberman and Language Log did not.) What the scientists did according to this new report was to capture the signature sound (the specific typical whistle noise) of each individual in a group of wild bottlenose dolphins and play the sounds back to the group. And what happened?
The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.
Now, think about that. If you call out “Geoff Pullum!” in a crowded street, and I’m there within earshot, I’m likely to turn round and look at you. But what I am not likely to do is yell “Geoff Pullum!” back at you.