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GELIFES Seminars - Carel ten Cate

When:Th 22-03-2018 16:00 - 17:00

Carel ten Cate (University of Leiden)

Using birds to provide insights in the evolution of speech and language

The abilities of non-human animals to distinguish speech sounds and to learn and abstract grammatical rules may provide a window on the evolutionary origin of human speech and language – an area of much debate. In our studies we use birds as model to address the presence of particular traits that have or are being seen as unique to humans. One area concerns the abilities of birds to differentiate between particular speech sounds. I will provide an example of such a study, suggesting that at least for this example humans and birds are similar. I will next turn to the question whether the computational and learning mechanisms that guide learning about language structure (grammar) are special and specific to language or humans. We address this question using the artificial grammar learning (AGL) paradigm to investigate the rule learning abilities of birds and to compare these with those observed in other species and humans. I will present some studies that show that although there certainly is a gap between the rule learning abilities of humans and nonhuman animals, it may be a quantitative rather than a qualitative one.