Image thanks to Chris Tzaros.

Image thanks to Chris Tzaros.

A recent scientific paper published in PLoS Biol by provided some rather amazing results...  Humans are not the only species that can talk! 

Speech can be considered to comprise 3 sequential levels, each ascending in complexity.  General acoustic sounds, which are combined to from meaningful words, and finally linked to form higher-order structures. As far as we were aware, humans were the only species that could use more than the basic acoustic sounds...  well, that was until some scientists analysed the vocal patterns of the chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps), "a highly coopera- tive bird of the Australian arid zone". In short, they showed that the Babblers used two distinct vocalisations in different combinations to convey meaning. Very impressive! :)

It is an open access paper and a very interesting read! :)

Author Summary

"A major question in language evolution is how its generative power emerged. This power, which allows the communication of limitless thoughts and ideas, is a result of the combinatorial nature of human language: meaningless phonemes can be combined to form meaningful words (phonology), and words can be combined to form higher-order, meaningful structures (syntax). While previous work has indicated the potential for animals to form syntax-like constructions, there exists little convincing evidence for a basic phonemic capacity in animals. Here, we demonstrate, using analyses combined with natural observations and playback experiments, that the cooperatively breeding chestnut-crowned babbler reuses two meaningless acoustic elements to create two functionally distinct vocalizations. This result suggests the basic ability for phoneme structuring occurs outside of humans and provides insights into potential early evolutionary steps preceding the generative phonemic system of human language."


Banner image of Babblers taken from wikipedia many thanks Avcida.

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