Staff Member Projects

Assessing the linguistic abilities of a songbird: syntax detection and rule learning in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

Carel ten Cate

zebravink1The faculty of language is a prominent feature differentiating humans from other animals. Claims about the uniqueness of the language faculty are dependent on whether or not research on the communication systems and cognitive abilities of other animals reveal similar principles and mechanisms. Features such as vocal learning and categorical perception that were once thought to be unique for human language, are also found in other animal species groups such as songbirds. This project focuses on another aspect thought to be uniquely human: syntax, or more generally: the ability for learning abstract rules. We examine the abilities of zebra finches to detect and distinguish between different types of grammars (syntax), using artificially constructed acoustic stimuli (artificial grammars) that are presented to the birds in operant conditioning experiments (Go-Nogo and 2 AFC-experiments). [PhD student: Michelle Spierings, funding: NWO-GW]


See also:

Segments and rules: a comparative study into the computational mechanisms underlying language acquisition