Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Alen Hajnal

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Mark Xitco

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Donald Sacco

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Richard Mohn

Committee Member 4 Department

Educational Research and Administration


Pragmatics focuses on how a communication system is used to achieve a communicative goal, the social context of the communication, and the organizational structure of communications (Horn & Ward, 2004; McLaughlin, 1998). There is evidence of pragmatics within animal communication systems. For example, context appears to be an important component in both signal production and a receiver’s response in vervet monkeys (Seyfarth et al. 1980).

MA Thesis:

The current study used an underwater keyboard to establish a two-way communication system between humans and dolphins. The purpose of this study was to determine if, under these conditions, dolphins displayed pragmatic abilities within communicative interactions with humans.

The dolphins did show evidence of pragmatic understanding based on evidence of turn-taking both at the keyboard and using behavioral gestures. Dolphins engaged in multi-turn conversations and showed a decline in interruptions over time. Dolphins appeared to pay attention to the attentional state of the human listener and predominately used the keyboard when the human was facing toward them.

Future studies that examine the specific keys activated by dolphins and humans can provide important information regarding the type of information that is exchanged during these interactions. Further studies are needed to examine any differences in human responding based on his or her location and orientation when the dolphin uses the keyboard.

MA thesis: