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Speech-Impaired Animal

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"Is it just me, or is there something eerie about Scooby? He's not anthropomorphic, exactly, he just speaks English. With a canine accent. It's as if trying to force his tortured vocal cords to form sounds that no loving God ever intended. Was he the result of some madman's blasphemous experiments in creating life? Are the ghosts he's chasing really the ghosts of his own inhuman mind? Should I get out more?"
Lore Sjöberg, The Book of Ratings

A mandatory requirement for most cartoons since the 1960s — a Non-Human Sidekick that could almost, but not quite, speak English. Often they were smarter than anyone else in the cast. When they weren't, they were dumber than everyone else in the cast.

The sounds that the Speech-Impaired Animal makes in place of actual dialogue can vary. Sometimes their dialogue is semi-intelligible but has a very heavy Animal Species Accent. At other times, they make sounds accurate (or inaccurate) for their species, or no sounds at all, but their gestures and body language indicate what they would be saying if they could talk.

Like Talking Animals, they are still animals in almost every other way, particularly when it comes to instincts, priorities and motivations. They very rarely wear clothes, and they are often vocally proud of the fact they aren't human.

Many SIAs lack hands and walk on all fours, negating the possibility of performing many human tasks and behavior, though a few examples are bipedal even if their species isn't naturally so. However, when required by a joke, the SIA can sometimes act like the mostly anthropomorphic Funny Animal (Scooby dressing up in a costume to aid one of Shaggy's elaborate deceptions) or the semi-anthropomorphic Civilized Animal (Astro walking with his arm around George).

This trope is particularly associated with works by Hanna-Barbera.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bakarasu from Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger was a raven ("Bakarasu" roughly means "Dumb crow") Boss and his gang used as a lookout or a messenger. In return, Bakarasu mocked Boss, annoyed him and drove him mad. Bakarasu strangely could talk—and laugh, usually at Boss—and theoretically it worked alongside Boss, Nuke and Mucha, but in reality it did whatever it pleased. It only had one appearance in Mazinger Z (episode 69), but he showed up in several Great Mazinger episodes.
  • In Digimon Tamers, Marine Angemon's dialogue is unique in that he speaks like he's underwater. Thankfully, his Tamer, Kenta, can understand him. The dub just has Marine Angemon speak short sentences.
  • Yumeria: Borderline case: Koneko, Neneko's kitten, who says only "Nono"; this is not the Japanese onomatopoeia for "meow" note .
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Shou Tucker created two chimeras that could understand and attempt to replicate human speech. They are not cute. They are Tear Jerking Nightmare Fuel creatures, especially once you realize what they're made out of. Poor Nina...
  • Touch (1981): Minami's pet dog "Punch", though technically the closest thing she does to speech is snickering.

    Comic Books 
  • The Winslow, the indestructible, cute, toothy idol of the vast majority of religions in the galaxy from Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire.
  • (Very) occasionally, Donald Duck's speech impediment is mentioned in his comics. It usually involves him trying to find a way to get over it.
  • The animal weapons of WE 3 communicate in a broken Leet Speak. As one of the researchers points out, "don't expect the sonnets of Shakespeare".

  • It's not the Raptor DNA; Elise is part human, so not only can she communicate through sign language, she has a larger understanding of human speech and grammar than other dinosaurs like Rexy and the Raptor Squad.

    Films — Animated 
  • Abu from Aladdin could not form any recognizable words (although he did say Aladdin's name on at least a couple occasions), but the sounds he made were close enough that if you listened closely you could usually tell what he was saying. Aladdin in particular has no difficulty understanding him, though others like Jasmine do not. The people in the movie treat him as a monkey, and his motives and capabilities reflect this. Contrast with Iago, a Talking Animal who speaks English with grating clarity, and even has a knack for mimicking voices, but still has no physical capabilities beyond that of a parrot. Apparently the idea is Iago lives in a world of speech-impaired animals, but as a parrot, his ability to speak makes him an animal without the speech impediment. In The Return of Jafar, Jafar implies that he taught Iago to speak, probably through training and/or magic: "If it weren't for me, you'd still be in a cage at the bazaar, squawking Polly wants a cracker!".
  • The mice from Cinderella.
  • The angel dog in Little Angels: The Brightest Christmas begins half its words with an "r" sound.
  • Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats: The dog Ratsputin speaks entirely in a thick growly voice (though none of the characters seem to have any issue understanding him).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Enchanted has Pip the Chipmunk who is a full Talking Animal in Andalasia but is limited to Rufus style squeaks and gestures in our world. Once he gets back to Andalasia he publishes a book about his experience called Silence Isn't Golden.
  • Dexter the monkey from Night at the Museum is very similar to Abu (see Disney's Aladdin) in terms of this trope, only without the clothes.
  • Jack the Monkey from Pirates of the Caribbean. The best part? Those are spontaneous actions by the monkey! It wasn't supposed to turn around and return Barbossa's incredulous look...along with a bunch of the other Jack the Monkey moments.
  • Zunar, The Cat from Outer Space lost the power to speak, along with telekinesis, whenever his alien-tech collar was removed.
  • As the animated counterpart, Azrael in The Smurfs (see Western Animation).

  • In Gone, Pack Leader, in a non-comedic way.
  • In Edward Eager's Half Magic, a girl wishes her cat could speak while holding a magic coin that grants your wishes... but only half-way. The cat could speak, but all its words began, ended, or replaced a syllable with the sound "fitz."
  • In The Dark Tower series, a strange creature called Oy can mimic human words, but usually leaves off the first consonant. His species is apparently fairly intelligent, as one was reported to be able to do basic arithmetic.
  • Discworld Averted with Gaspode the "Wonder Dog", who can talk just fine except most people only hear him on the subliminal level because few of them are prepared to believe a dog can talk.
    • Also, in terms of the "speech impaired" part, it should be noted that Gaspode often, when humans expect him to act like a dog, says things like "bark" and "woof", which sometimes takes the human(s) in question quite a while to realize is not the same as an actual bark.
    • The Librarian from the same series is a straight example. He's a human who turned into an orangutan due to a shape-shifting accident, and since then he communicates solely with "Ook" (and occasionally "Eek") sounds. However, he perfectly understands human speech, and his "ook"-s usually are meaningful in the context of the situation.
    • The Death of Rats is an even more supernatural example: a rat skeleton in a black robe with a miniature scythe, he can vocalize "SQUEAK" and a few related rat noises, but Death and Death's granddaughter can nonetheless understand what he means, if not what he actually says. At one point, an ordinary rat's spirit squeaks inquisitively to him after being reaped, and the Death of Rats replies, both understanding the other.
    • Played for Drama in Witches Abroad with the Big Bad Wolf. It was just a regular wolf enchanted by Lilith to think like a human, which means it tried to walk on its hind legs and operate doorknobs with a body that simply isn't designed for such things. When captured it is just barely able to vocalize its plea for "an ending" in a slurring voice. Granny obliges.
  • This is one proposed explanation for a joke found on a Sumerian tablet: "a dog walks into a tavern and says, 'I can't see a thing; I'll open this one.'" The explanation goes that the punchline would have made it clear to a contemporary audience that the dog was commenting on the tavern's prostitutes, with "nothing" being a mispronunciation of "widow."

    Live Action TV 
  • Henrietta Pussycat from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Lore Sjöberg once noted:
    I found it particularly eerie that she could only speak English about once every five words; the rest was "meow." It was like the inverse of the Smurf language.
    • An earlier show featuring her had her only knowing three English words: "telephone", "wonderful", and "Misterogers" [sic].
  • Eddie on Frasier. He's a regular dog, except he understands what's happening to a highly intelligent degree.

  • Kids Praise: Blooper is Psalty's pet dog, and is a lot like Scooby-Doo, to the point where his barks at times are intelligible speech to the other characters.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Beetle Bailey: Sgt. Snorkel's dog Otto just barely manages it in a few individual strips, turning his growls into something resembling speech. Most of the time he sticks to using thought bubbles to comment on things, sort of like Garfield.

    Video Games 
  • In The Secret of Monkey Island, you can talk to the dog in the SCUMM BAR. It mainly ruffs and growls but will occasionally speak story specific words in perfect English. It becomes Hilarious in Hindsight in the special edition with the dog being voiced by a human.
  • Donkey Kong makes human-sounding laughs and exclamations, not to mention the occasional recognizable word. In Donkey Kong 64 and Jungle Beat, he also chants his own name.

    Web Animation 
  • All of the Happy Tree Friends characters seem to be Speaking Simlish, but if you listen closely you can make out a few words here and there, so they may be an extreme example of this trope.


    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo is the archetypal example. He can speak English, but begins almost every word with an "r", which he rolls a tiny bit, and his voice is a bit growly. Later incarnations have downplayed the impediment, though, most notably Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
    • Weirdly, Scooby's nephew Scrappy doesn't have the same impediment. He is from a younger generation than Scooby is, so perhaps the Doos are evolving.
    • In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Scooby's father has the impediment while his mother speaks normally.
    • Subverted in a memorable gag in The New Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show where Scooby sees a sign written the way he normally speaks ("Rhird revel - rots of ruck") and reads it out loud in perfect English.
      Scooby: "Third level - lots of luck."
      Shaggy: Wha-? Like, what did you say, Scoob?
      Scooby: RI don't row, Raggy.
    • In the Courtroom Episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy summons Scooby-Doo to the courtroom to testify against Mandy - Scooby complains that Mandy apparently made fun of the way he talks.
  • Curious George: Frank Welker repeats Abu's mannerisms in his performances as George.
  • Astro from The Jetsons, who predates Scooby-Doo by seven years, complete with the same voice actor, Don Messick. He even writes the same way he speaks. The 80's episodes gave us Orbitty (also voiced by Welker).
  • Futurama gave us Nibbler (voiced by Frank Welker). Nibbler is intelligent, though usually Obfuscating Stupidity. He occasionally shows more intelligence by vocalizing rapidly and gesturing wildly to indicate danger. And then there's the fact that he's actually a member of an ancient race that can manipulate the minds of others to make it seem like he's speaking their language.
  • Rufus from Kim Possible. He's clearly more intelligent than a real naked mole rat would be, but he typically communicates in squeaks and growls with only a few actual words thrown in.
  • Wonder Dog from the 1973-74 season of Superfriends. He couldn't really speak and had to regularly resort to Hand Signals and playing Charades in order to be understood.
  • Brain from Inspector Gadget. During his cameo episode in the spinoff, he's given a voice collar. (revealing that he's understandably shell-shocked.)
  • Shag the sheepdog from Road Rovers.
  • Spot the cat from Hong Kong Phooey. Which is odd because Hong Kong Phooey himself is a fully anthropomorphic dog.
  • Muttley from Wacky Races and Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines.
  • The Simpsons: Played a few times with the Simpson's dog, Santa's Little Helper.
    Bart! Bart! Bartbartbart!
    Weeee loooooveee youuuuu!
  • Mega Man (Ruby-Spears): Rush in the Ruby-Spears cartoon spoke like Scooby-Doo. He was also responsible for all the non-quip comic-relief, which manifested at arbitrary and occasionally inappropriate moments.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Angel, Fluttershy's pet(?) bunny communicates through easily-understood pantomime à la Gromit. Later it's shown that Fluttershy can also translate animal sounds; Angel being The Voiceless anyway is justified since rabbits don't make "animal sounds."
  • Played with in one Looney Tunes cartoon with Bob McKimson's hound - without Foghorn Leghorn around to bother him, he was getting bothered by Daffy Duck. As his master, Mrs. Elmer Fudd, hears the parson is visiting for supper and doesn't know what to cook, the dog starts playing Charades with her, pantomiming roast duck. She's not good at playing, and when she finally guesses "roast dog", he has enough and shouts "NO! Roast D-U-C-K, DUCK! Sheeeesh!!!"
  • A good few animated adaptations from the 80's seemed to gain a SIA as a Team Pet or having one as part of the original cast:
  • Azrael in The Smurfs is capable of some mildly intelligible phrasing but made of cat-like sounds. He can be understood sometimes as when Gargamel says: "How I hate Smurfs!" and Azrael says "Mew too".
  • Zipper in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fly unable to speak clearly with the other (also Talking Animal) characters. Even so other insects seem to be able to speak normally though.
  • In Animaniacs, Chicken Boo (voiced by Frank Welker) can only make chicken noises, yet many human characters have entire conversations with him while remaining oblivious to the obvious fact that he's a giant chicken wearing a Paper-Thin Disguise.
  • Hit-Monkey: The protagonist mainly expresses himself through the usual monkey ways, which is to say growls, howls, gestures and violence, yet is surprisingly good at making his intentions clear to other people. His Spirit Advisor Bryce seems to understand him better than most (though that may be due to their spiritual bond) and he can communicate directly with other animals (shown through black dialog boxes) such as rats, dogs, cats and other monkeys.


Video Example(s):


All Sound Clips of Donkey Kong

All the various sounds made by Donkey Kong.

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Main / SpeechImpairedAnimal

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