Saturday, January 21, 2006

tweet tweet

Dr. Doolittle's Diaries
Fascinating NZ research shows our feathered friends have different 'accents' according to their 'tribes' and locations. Way to go, Massey, with their study on Saddlebacks!
This behaviour's also been observed in pidgeons from different areas of London & Sydney. It means, imho, that birds are more human-like than first thought. The brain structures & pathways responsible for 'speech' are reasonably well established in both species. But this new evidence of bird mimicry, mixing-calls, incorporating & adapation of new sounds, suggests a highly sophisticated degree of mental creativity, ie, cognitive activity above the level of pure instinct. It denotes a (more) fully conscious 'birdsong' that does more than just 'communicate' or 'send signals'; but is aware of tonal, rhythmic, syntax & other variations among the 'speakers' themselves.

It may also suggest linguistic 'creativity', long thought to be the sole province of humans. That is, the capacity to:

1. Use 'words'. Vocal sounds combined to form discrete sequences, which have unique specific meanings: ie, 1 sound combination = 1 word/idea.
2. Create new words, using new combinations of sounds, that eventually become part of language.

The imitative behaviour of the Saddlebacks strongly resembles human language convergence; the natural merging of dialects whenever speakers come to live in close proximity with each other. This birdsong phenomenon is unlikely to arise spontaneously or randomly. As such, it could imply the existence of an 'avian grammar' -- "The Rules of Bird-talk" -- in which case birdsong might be considered a true language, however rudimentary - at least as defined by criteria used to judge human languages.

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