Monday, December 28, 2009

Birds might show how humans learn speech

From The University of Chicago:

Researchers at the University of Chicago are studying communication in animals to improve their understanding of how language develops in humans and how they use it.

“We find compelling evidence that language is a phenomenon of evolutionary biology and within the reach of biological investigation,” write biologist Daniel Margoliash and psychologist Howard Nusbaum in “Language: The Perspective from Organismal Biology,” an opinion piece in the current issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

The two researchers challenge the position held by other scholars, including language theorist Noam Chomsky, that the way people develop language is uniquely human and unrelated to communication systems in other animals. In that theory, the ability to speak is contained in a “black box” in the brain and can be opened by informal contact as a baby begins recognizing sounds or a toddler begins speaking.

Recent research, including studies at the University on songbirds, questions that position and argues for inclusion of evolutionary biology as a means of learning more about how language develops. Songbirds also show a human-like capacity to learn complex vocal patterns, the researchers have found.
Margoliash and Nusbaum's research worked with European Starlings. Perhaps that decreases some of the EUST hatred that so many birders hold?

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Birds and Birding

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December 29, 2009 5:24 AM  

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