Budgerigars and linguistics, new research


This video says about itself:

Budgies are grammar pedants too

20 June 2016

Just like us, these parrots use the grammatical structure of unfamiliar phrases to work out what they mean.

From New Scientist:

20 June 2016

Budgies use grammar to find meaning in unfamiliar phrases

By Colin Barras

Budgerigars are grammar pedants too. Just like us, these parrots use the grammatical structure of unfamiliar phrases to work out what they mean.

There is evidence that some birds pay attention to the order of sounds in a song, but this grammatical behaviour has not been well studied.

Michelle Spierings and Carel ten Cate at Leiden University in the Netherlands made new songs by piecing together three different snippets of recorded bird melodies. They played budgies and zebra finches certain patterns – such as AAB or ABA – and trained them to peck only when they heard AAB.

Order of play

The researchers then played new combinations to the birds. Because the zebra finches had learned not to peck for ABA, they also did not peck for CCA – apparently focusing on the fact the A snippet was in the final position in both cases.

But the budgies were different, focusing instead on the structure of the song. They pecked when they heard CCA, recognising that this is the same pattern as AAB. “They followed the structure and were not distracted by the positional changes,” says Spierings – the budgerigars are structural learners when it comes to grammar, like humans.

The results provide more evidence for convergent evolution of vocal learning in humans and birds, say the researchers. For instance, a study in 2014 found that dozens of genes involved in human vocal learning are active in a similar way in the brains of birds including both the zebra finch and the budgerigar.

4 thoughts on “Budgerigars and linguistics, new research

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