Birds form language like HUMANS

Birds form language like HUMANS
Calls of chestnut-crowned babblers could be broken down into combinations of two distinct and deliberate noises.
Sep 10 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 9/10/2019 11:46:44 AM IST

 Birds may form their language in the same way people do by stringing together otherwise meaningless sounds, a study suggests. When made on their own, vowel and consonant noises don’t convey much information.

But, linked together, the sounds can be used to create sophisticated words and converse in groups about an almost limitless range of subjects.

And birds may be able to communicate in a similar way, scientists say, because they have been observed turning nonsense noises into meaningful phrases.

This is the first time animals have been heard to combine distinct and co-dependent calls to develop a language, the team said.

Researchers at universities in Zurich, Exeter, Warwick and Macquarie and New South Wales in Australia studied the calls of the chestnut-crowned babbler. They found that all its calls could be broken down into two distinct parts arranged in different ways to convey different things.

Adding to past research which noticed the babblers used two tones – at the time labelled A and B – to communicate, the findings confirmed how the animals heard them.

Dr Sabrina Engesser, from the University of Zurich, said: ‘Through systematic comparisons we tested which of the elements babblers perceived as equivalent or different sounds’.

A study co-author, Exeter’s Professor Andy Russell, said what they found was ‘reminiscent of the way humans use sounds to form meaningful words’. But when the team played the individual A and B sounds to the birds they didn’t show any signs that they meant anything.

This provides an insight, however basic, into the way human language developed by combining distinct but useless noises – called a combinatorial sound system. The ability to communicate this way is not a sign of the sophistication of words, the scientists add as a caveat. 

(Sam Blanchard for mailonline)

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