Navigation Links
Monkeys 'understand' rules underlying language musicality
Date:11/13/2013

This news release is available in German.

Many of us have mixed feelings when remembering painful lessons in German or Latin grammar in school. Languages feature a large number of complex rules and patterns: using them correctly makes the difference between something which "sounds good", and something which does not. However, cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna have shown that sensitivity to very simple structural and melodic patterns does not require much learning, or even being human: South American squirrel monkeys can do it, too.

Language and music are structured systems, featuring particular relationships between syllables, words and musical notes. For instance, implicit knowledge of the musical and grammatical patterns of our language makes us notice right away whether a speaker is native or not. Similarly, the perceived musicality of some languages results from dependency relations between vowels within a word. In Turkish, for example, the last syllable in words like "kaplanlar" or "gller" must "harmonize" with the previous vowels. (Try it yourself: "gllar" requires more movement and does not sound as good as "gller".)

Similar "dependencies" between words, syllables or musical notes can be found in languages and musical cultures around the world. The biological question is whether the ability to process dependencies evolved in human cognition along with human language, or is rather a more general skill, also present in other animal species who lack language.

Andrea Ravignani, a PhD candidate at the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, and his colleagues looked for this "dependency detection" ability in squirrel monkeys, small arboreal primates living in Central and South America. Inspired by the monkeys' natural calls and hearing predispositions, the researchers designed a sort 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 Turkish and many human languages.

Monkeys were first presented with "phrases" containing structural dependencies, and later tested using stimuli either with or without dependencies. Their reactions were measured using the "violation of expectations" paradigm. "Show up at work in your pyjamas, people will turn around and stare at you, while at a slumber party nobody will notice", explains Ravignani: In other words, one looks longer at something that breaks the "standard" pattern. "This is not about absolute perception, rather how something is categorized and contrasted within a broader system." Using this paradigm, the scientists found that monkeys reacted more to the "ungrammatical" patterns, demonstrating perception of dependencies. "This kind of experiment is usually done by presenting monkeys with human speech: Designing species-specific, music-like stimuli may have helped the squirrel monkeys' perception", argues primatologist and co-author Ruth Sonnweber.

"Our ancestors may have already acquired this simple dependency-detection ability some 30 million years ago, and modern humans would thus share it with many other living primates. Mastering basic phonological patterns and syntactic rules is not an issue for squirrel monkeys: the bar for human uniqueness has to be raised", says Ravignani: "This is only a tiny step: we will keep working hard to unveil the evolutionary origins and potential connections between language and music".


'/>"/>

Contact: Andrea Ravignani
andrea.ravignani@univie.ac.at
43-142-777-6101
University of Vienna
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Monkeys stressed from longer foraging times
2. Networking ability a family trait in monkeys
3. Monkey business: What howler monkeys can tell us about the role of interbreeding in human evolution
4. Estrogenic plants linked to altered hormones, possible behavior changes in monkeys
5. Monkeys put off sex by bystanders
6. The old primates club: Even male monkeys ride their fathers coattails to success
7. Do monkeys know what others need?
8. Understanding ourselves by studying the animal kingdom
9. Hormones impact stress, memories, and understanding social cues
10. Understanding immune system memory -- in a roundabout way
11. Research reveals new understanding, warning signs, and potential treatments for multiple sclerosis
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Monkeys 'understand' rules underlying language musicality
(Date:6/28/2020)... BASEL, Switzerland (PRWEB) , ... ... ... leading provider of enterprise software solutions for biopharmaceutical R&D, today announced that ... oncology company developing innovative, full-length multispecific antibodies (Multiclonics®), to support their translational ...
(Date:6/25/2020)... MANSFIELD, Mass. (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2020 ... ... provider of cloud-based enterprise software and software-driven clinical data services that accelerate drug ... trials for low-dose selinexor, an XPO1 inhibitor, in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19. ...
(Date:6/23/2020)... , ... June 23, 2020 , ... ... sustainable healthcare, and Renovagen Ltd, a UK supplier and manufacturer of innovative portable ... support testing operations in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia. , ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:7/22/2020)... ... ... Join experts from Reed Tech , Gary Saner, Sr. Manager, Information ... live webinar on Thursday, August 13, 2020 at 11am EDT (4pm BST/UK). ... Specifically, for medical devices, the NMPA has departments dealing with medical device registration (pre-market ...
(Date:7/10/2020)... ... July 08, 2020 , ... ... products, announces a significant expansion of laboratory operations through its COVID-19 testing ... implementing testing programs. , Bode-CARES provides a turnkey solution that ...
(Date:7/7/2020)... ... July 06, 2020 , ... Bio-IT World ... Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the University of Chicago, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mission: Cure, ... an elite awards program, highlighting outstanding examples of how technology innovations and strategic ...
(Date:6/28/2020)... ... June 25, 2020 , ... ... develop a vaccine or drug treatment. In an effort to better understand the ... released the world’s largest imaging dataset portraying therapeutic compound effects from over 1,600 ...
Breaking Biology Technology: