University of Cambridge > > Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) > Immanuel Kant’s Sparrow: High level acoustic communication in songbirds and humans

Immanuel Kant’s Sparrow: High level acoustic communication in songbirds and humans

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In order to establish what makes language an exclusively human property one should make comparisons with other animal vocal communication systems and identify the human-specific components. The best studied parallel to human language is found in song birds. Their high-level vocal communication system consists of an elaborate syringeal structure, a specialized brain circuit, with an ability to copy vocalizations from tutors and combine the learned vocal elements into syntactic sequences. Song traditions and song dialects are a consequence of this. Canary-reared house sparrows were used as a model to study how birds learn repertoire and syntax from a foreign species in relation to underlying brain areas. Birds and humans acquired their vocal communication systems independently by convergent evolution. Similarities between them may point towards inherent requirements of learned acoustic communication.

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