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Bird songs and human speech use similar patterns

Ottawa, Jun 24 (Prensa Latina) A research on song phrases of many songbird species follow patterns that are similar to those used in human speech, a fact that could be influenced by physical factors of the songbirds, the scientific journal Current Biology published.

Specialists at McGill University in Quebec, pointed out that these songbirds like humans –no matter what languages they speak- tend to use shorter elements (whether these are words or sounds) when they are putting together longer phrases. Linguists speculate that this pattern, known as Menzerath’s Law, may make communication more efficient by making things easier to understand or say.

The researchers suggested that, at least in songbirds, physical factors such as muscle fatigue and limited lung capacities may also play a key role. Similar factors could contribute to seeing Menzerath´s Law in humans.

‘Although we see Menzerath’s Law in all the songbird species we looked at, and others have seen it among primates and penguins, we aren’t sure this necessarily reflects enhanced communication efficiency in non-human animals,’ says Jon Sakata, a professor in McGill University’s biology department and the senior author of the paper. ‘It is possible that these patterns of communication that we saw in songbirds are caused by physical predispositions and constraints.’

Interestingly, Sakata also notes that the brain mechanisms regulating breathing and vocal muscles seem to be organized in similar ways in birds and humans.

The idea that physical elements may play a role in these song patterns is supported by the fact that when the researchers compared the song patterns of birds that had been typically reared and tutored by their parents with those that had not been taught to sing by their parents (untutored birds), they found the same patterns.

pgh/Pll/msm / nmr