As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Birds can be grammar nerds too

Birds get one step closer to being smarter than you.
Melissa Dahl 
Source: Science of Us
10 MAR 2016 - 10:36 AM UPDATED 10 MAR 2016 - 10:36 AM

Fine, so various species of animals have demonstrated signs of traits we might once have considered “uniquely human” — empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, to name just a few. But grammar! We humans still have our grammar in general, and syntax in particular. That still makes us special, right?

Maybe not, reports the Washington Post’s Rachel Feltman. According to a new paper in Nature Communications, a particular type of bird — the Japanese great tit, similar to the chickadee in North America — uses syntax in its communication with its fellow birds. More specifically, as Feltman writes, these birds use a particular type of syntax: compositional, referring to the way a sentence or, in this case, a series of chirps — is structured. We humans use compositional syntax to get across complex ideas. For example:

“Careful, it’s dangerous” is a phrase that has meaning, and so is “come toward me.” When those two phrases are combined, they have a different meaning than they do on their own: They’re directing the receiver to act in a different way than either phrase would independently.

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