Staff Member Projects

Bird speech? On the perception speech sounds by birds.

Carel ten Cate

zebravink4Both humans and songbirds produce complex vocalizations that exhibit rapid variations in multiple acoustic parameters. Both humans and birds must be able to quickly recognize and categorize vocalizations. We examine whether and how the ways in which zebra finches distinguish speech sounds are comparable to those of human speech perception. Some speech processing abilities are thought to be unique for humans, such a the ability to perceive words as being the same in spite of speaker variability such as gender or age (speaker normalization).


We are interested whether birds also are able of such processing of human speech sounds. We do so by training zebra finches to discriminate different types of speech sound contrasts, e.g. different vowels or different genders or individual voices and next testing how such distinctions are made or to what extend they can be generalized to new speech sounds or novel speakers. We compare the outcomes with those of similar experiments done with humans. [Postdoc: Pralle Kriengwatana, funding: ARC; PhD student: Merel Burgering, Funding:  NWO Gravity programme: ‘Language in Interaction’]