The ABC's of animal speech: Not so random after all

National Institute For Mathematical, Biological Synthesis

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed the vocal sequences of seven different species of birds and mammals and found that the vocal sequences produced by the animals appear to be generated by complex statistical processes, more akin to human language. Typically, scientists have assumed that the sequence of animal calls is generated by a simple random process, called a Markov process. Yet, assuming a Markov process exists raises questions about the evolutionary path of animal language to human language—if animal vocal sequences are Markovian, how did human language evolve so quickly from its animal origins? In this Science Minute from NIMBioS, Dr. Arik Kershenbaum explains new research that suggests the calls of many animals might contain more language-like structure than previously thought. The findings suggests there may be an intermediate step on the evolutionary path between the regular grammar of animal communication and the context-free grammar of human language that has not yet been identified and explored.

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