Scientists have discovered the first known non-human species to communicate using language – the chestnut-crowned babbler, a small, gregarious bird that lives in the Australian outback.
The scientists have discovered that the birds communicate using sounds that on their own are meaningless, but when combined convey a certain message. Despite knowing that bird songs have different meanings, this is the first time that scientists have been able to show that individual messages can be made using different combinations of the repertoire of sounds – similar to the phonemes that make up words in human languages. Students applying for Languages or Linguistics can look more into how languages are formed, and what constitutes a language.
Experiments showed that the birds used two types of sounds – ‘A’ and ‘B’ – in different arrangements. ‘AB’ is a flight call, whilst ‘BAB’ is used when they are feeding chicks. The researchers spliced sounds together, and found that the behaviour of the birds was affected by whether they heard ‘AB’ or ‘BAB’, and that it didn’t matter which call the sound was originally spliced from.
Students interested in Anthropology or HSPS should consider how languages develop in different cultures, and how they are used to communicate different needs depending on the society.