Friday, November 15, 2013

Study: Monkeys Understand Language Musicality Rules: Evolution of Human Speech

Language is a part of what makes us human, but learning different languages can often be a difficult process. There are rules and patterns in a language that make something "sound good" or cause it to become almost intelligible. Now, scientists have found that these structural and melodic patterns in languages are so simple, even monkeys can understand them.

Both language and music are structured systems. They feature particular relationships between syllables, words and musical notes. For example, implicit knowledge of the musical and grammatical patterns of our language makes us notice right away whether a speaker is a native or not. In a similar way, the perceived musicality of some languages results from dependency relations between vowels within a word.

Similar "dependencies" within words can be found in languages around the world. In order to see whether or not the ability to process these dependencies was a uniquely human feature, though, researchers turned to South American squirrel monkeys. Inspired by the monkey's natural calls and hearing predispositions, the scientists designed a type of "musical system" for monkeys. These musical patterns had overall acoustic features similar to monkeys' calls, while their structural features mimicked syntactic or phonological patterns like those found in human languages.

Full story here.

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