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I recently stumbled across the following article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1240334/Dolphins-clever-humans--treat-like-people-say-scientists.html

which makes the claim that dolphins are almost as clever as humans and:

In one piece of research, bottlenose dolphins were shown to be able to recognise themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect various parts of their bodies. Captive animals can also learn a rudimentary symbol-based language.

Is it true that dolphins can learn a rudimentary symbol-based language?

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Hello Chris, and very Christmas, yes, and it is believed that the dolphins were put to use in some capacity in World War II, during which they have been able to perform arithmetic and other intellectual tasks to find U-boats. –  Carlo_R. Dec 22 '12 at 13:43
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes, but "rudimentary" is a good word for the limits of what has been proven.

Dolphins pass the mirror test and can understand word-order syntax (the difference between "bring the ball to the hoop" and "bring the hoop to the ball"):

Their performance is high above chance level...it is difficult to interpret their results without postulating both semantic-symbolic and syntactic abilities in dolphins.

Origins of Language: Constraints on Hypothesis, Johansson discussing the results of Louis Herman.

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If I remember correctly, chimps who have been taught sign language aren't able to understand word-order syntax. Dolphins 1, Chimps 0. –  Paul D. Waite Sep 23 '13 at 14:55
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