Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rats can tell two languages apart from speech cues, sharing an ability with humans and monkeys

10.01.2005


They’re the third type of mammal shown to have this skill

Mammals other than humans can distinguish between different speech patterns. Neuroscientists in Barcelona report that rats, like humans (newborn and adult) and Tamarin monkeys, can extract regular patterns in language from speech (prosodic) cues. The report appears in the January issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

This study of 16 rats per each of four conditions showed that they were able to pick up enough cues from the rhythm and intonation of human speech to tell spoken Dutch from spoken Japanese. After the researchers trained rats to press a lever when hearing a synthesized five-second sentence in Dutch or Japanese, they tested the rats’ response to the alternative language. Rats rewarded for responding to Japanese did not respond to Dutch and vice versa. They pressed the lever only for the language to which they’d been exposed. What’s more, the rats generalized the ability to differentiate to new Dutch and new Japanese sentences they had not heard before.



This special ability to detect the features that distinguish one type of speech from another – enabled by a test using two very different spoken languages – has now been documented in three different mammalian species: Humans (both newborn and adult), Tamarin monkeys, and now rats. Scientists study Tamarin monkeys because they can use the same kinds of experiments that they use for infants, allowing for direct comparison. The rats were the first non-primate mammal studied; research on non-mammalian species (such as songbirds) may shed light on whether this ability is unique to mammals.

The rats’ linguistic sophistication was limited. When experimenters used different humans to speak each sentence, the rats found it much hard to tell the languages apart. Humans, even in early infancy, can overcome this problem – and only get better at it by learning a lexicon and syntax, phonology (letter sounds), word segments, and semantic information (what words mean).

Author Juan Toro, who is about to earn his PhD, says the results were surprising. "It was striking to find that rats can track certain information that seems to be so important in language development in humans," he says. The research, he adds, shows "which abilities that humans use for language are shared with other animals, and which are uniquely human. It also suggests what sort of evolutionary precursors language might have."

Toro cautions that just because the rats share an ability with humans doesn’t mean they use it the same way. He says, "Rats have not evolved the ability to track prosodic cues for linguistic requirements. It is more likely that they do it as a byproduct of other abilities that have some evolutionary relevance for them. The idea that species can use certain structures for a different function than that for which they evolved is not new. For example, human newborns coordinate all the speech information they take in to eventually make sense of language, something that a rat is not likely to do."

It is very likely, he and his co-authors suspect, that the ability to tell apart two different languages is a byproduct of more general perceptual abilities used for detecting time order through hearing – a useful adaptation for the rat. Thus, he adds, "rats can co-opt these abilities to differentiate sentences by detecting their prosodic regularities."

Pam Willenz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.apa.org
http://www.apa.org/releases/speech_article.pdf

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>