Zebra finches can detect variations in human speech

Zebra finches can perceive pitch and rhythm changes in humans speech, suggesting that detecting these subtle speech variations is not linked to language.

Niagara Falls Aviary/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

When humans vary the pitch or rhythm of their speech, the changes usually add information to what is being said. Humans, however, aren’t the only ones that can hear these variations in sound — zebra finches can perceive them as well, a new study shows. The results, which appear May 28 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that being able to detect subtle variations in speech is not linked to language. The evolutionary process that shaped the birds’ sensitivity, and possibly that of other animals, to sound variations may also be at the base of humans’ ability to perceive these changes in speech, the authors write.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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