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.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Budgerigars can identify spoken sounds without prior exposure to human speech

Like people, the birds 'trade' vocal cues to distinguish 'd' from 't' 

Date: May 31, 2017
Source: PLOS

No experience with human speech is necessary for budgerigars to perceive the difference between "d" and "t," according to a study published May 31, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Mary Flaherty from The State University of New York, Buffalo, USA, and colleagues.

The debate over speech perception is unresolved, with some evidence supporting a speech-specific mechanism and other evidence supporting a general auditory mechanism. The latter case holds that, in the absence of extensive experience with speech, there should be no difference between speech and nonspeech perception. To investigate this scenario, Flaherty and colleagues used budgerigars, vocal mimics that are similar to people in their ability to perceive consonant and vowel tokens. The researchers divided 25 budgerigars into groups before hatching, raising some in complete isolation from human speech and others with extensive exposure to human speech.

After the birds fledged, the researchers trained them to peck keys in response to synthetic speech sounds that began with "d" or "t." Then they tested the birds' perception of speech sounds that varied in two cues: voice onset time and the frequency of the first formant (formants are resonating frequencies of the vocal tract). For comparison, they likewise tested the perception of speech sounds in 25 people.


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