Friday, July 08, 2011

Panzee the Chimp Can Recognize Distorted Speech

A talented chimpanzee called Panzee can recognise distorted and incomplete words spoken by a computer, scientists have discovered.

That suggests that apes may be more capable of perceiving spoken sounds than previously thought, and that the common ancestor of humans and chimps may also have had this ability.

It also refutes the idea that humans have brains uniquely adapted to process speech, say the scientists who have published their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Panzee was raised from 8 days old, by humans, and was spoken to and treated as if she were human. At the same time, she was taught to use symbols called lexigrams to communicate.

"This has resulted in Panzee showing proficiency in understanding approximately 130 English words," researcher Lisa Heimbauer told BBC Nature.

That made her an ideal subject to test hypotheses about how well other species, rather than humans, might be able to understand speech.

"There is a view about the human ability to produce and perceive speech that is called 'Speech is Special'," said Ms Heimbauer, who is studying for her PhD.

Full story here.

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