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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Babble Babble Bitch Bitch Rebel Rebel Party Party


The happy babbling that entertains parents as their babies try to mimic speech turns out to have a parallel in the animal world. Baby birds babble away before mastering their adult song, researchers report in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

Michale S. Fee and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the brains of baby zebra finches as the little birds learned the unique song they would use as adults.

The baby birds practiced making sounds incessantly, the team reports in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

"Birds start out by babbling, just as humans do," Fee said, while the adult bird produces a very precise pattern of sound.

Like babies moving their limbs or trying to walk, babbling emphasizes the importance of play activities in learning.

"The parallels between human and bird language are indeed striking," said psychology professor Bob McMurray of the University of Iowa, though there are also important differences between the structure of human language and bird song.

"This work illustrates that language learning may operate by very general principles ... that can be seen across species as different as finches and humans," added McMurray, who was not part of Fee's team.

"However, when these somewhat simple principles are translated into neural tissue the results can be surprisingly complex," he added.

Indeed, Fee discovered that one part of the finch brain produces song, while the babbling is controlled by a different part of the brain.

The original Science article is available online, but requires subscription.  The free podcast, however, covers this in a great deal of depth and has sounds!

Anyway, it's neat.  I've been following stuff about bird language and other related research in the animal world (of which we are, of course, a part).  I like language in general and have always been fascinated by language development from many perspectives, including the philosophical POV.  In fact, I'll get to observe this pretty intensely for 10 days when I pull a Mr Belvedere stint on Liberal Mountain in June, which will be wicked fun now that the 2yo has moved beyond babbling and the 3yo has become very fun to talk to...


May 1, 2008 | Permalink


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didn't pay attention to social sciences, did you? Learning theories have demonstrated this since the 19th century. Computers remain at the 2 year old level of learning.

Posted by: 1Watt | May 1, 2008 9:29:06 PM

Um, yeah, I did pay attention to social sciences. The point is that other sciences are demonstrating this now, as observed by philosophy and the "softer" disciplines. And computers are only limited by the limits of connections we make in the circuitry and binary for now...

Posted by: NTodd | May 1, 2008 9:33:46 PM

Heard a mockingbird trying to do his version of the kites' shriek, it was very funny.

Posted by: Ruth | May 2, 2008 10:39:38 AM

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