Humans have always thought that if it weren’t for them, spoken language wouldn’t have existed. This may be true indeed, as we are equipped with a larger brain that is empowered by complex capacities of perceiving, understanding and assimilating giant amounts of information. But we couldn’t have done all the evolutionary business without outside help. The Babbler birds are here to remind us that exactly, as they have fascinating language skills.
Scientists have conducted an extensive study on the endearing creatures and they came to the conclusion that the birds are capable to rearrange meaningless sounds in their calls to form diverse and meaningful messages. This exclusive trait seems to occur outside of humans too, as the birds are the living proof for that. Their capacity to find meaning in seemingly meaningless sounds, could indicate a potential early step towards the generative phonemic system of human language.
We thought that parrots were the only species of birds capable to build a language of their own, with sound information they assimilate from humans. And that could happen with extensive training, trial, error and repetition only. Babbler birds are naturally designed to manipulate random information and turn it into meaning. Scientists have long been aware of the birds’ capacity of putting together different sounds and patterns to compose the songs they sing but they never believed that the beautiful songs bear meaning as well.
The babbler bird does not sing but instead makes delicate calls build up with small acoustic and distinct individual sounds. The bird calls are defined by a diversified range of patterns that are used in certain situations. They have a language for flight call, for feeding call and for many other circumstances that invite communication.
Language was thought to be the fundamental ability that differentiates humans from other species but nature is here to prove humans how wrong we all are. Leaving the evolutionary pride aside, wildlife still unfolds in fascinating complexity and diversity, to show us that we are not that smart.
The babbler birds have the unique capacity to say something completely new by rearranging existing sounds in their repertoire rather than coming up with whole new sounds. The remix culture started long before we were born and nature is now able to teach us this lesson.
Scientists discovered different calls for specific situations in babbler birds but only three of them have the quality of being formed by same sounds with diversified arrangements.
“Further experiments are now required to determine exactly how babblers compute and perceive the elements from the two calls”, the researchers concluded.
Image Source: birdlife.org.au