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Apeldoorn, Netherlands

Ohms V.R.,Institute of Biology Leiden IBL | Gill A.,Institute of Biology Leiden IBL | Van Heijningen C.A.A.,Institute of Biology Leiden IBL | Beckers G.J.L.,Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Seewiesen) | And 2 more authors.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2010

Humans readily distinguish spoken words that closely resemble each other in acoustic structure, irrespective of audible differences between individual voices or sex of the speakers. There is an ongoing debate about whether the ability to form phonetic categories that underlie such distinctions indicates the presence of uniquely evolved, speech-linked perceptual abilities, or is based on more general ones shared with other species. We demonstrate that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) can discriminate and categorize monosyllabic words that differ in their vowel and transfer this categorization to the same words spoken by novel speakers independent of the sex of the voices. Our analysis indicates that the birds, like humans, use intrinsic and extrinsic speaker normalization to make the categorization. This finding shows that there is no need to invoke special mechanisms, evolved together with language, to explain this feature of speech perception. © 2009 The Royal Society.

Ohms V.R.,Institute of Biology Leiden IBL | Ohms V.R.,Indiana University | Beckers G.J.L.,Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Seewiesen) | Ten Cate C.,Institute of Biology Leiden IBL | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Experimental Biology | Year: 2012

Birdsong and human speech share many features with respect to vocal learning and development. However, the vocal production mechanisms have long been considered to be distinct. The vocal organ of songbirds is more complex than the human larynx, leading to the hypothesis that vocal variation in birdsong originates mainly at the sound source, while in humans it is primarily due to vocal tract filtering. However, several recent studies have indicated the importance of vocal tract articulators such as the beak and oropharyngeal-esophageal cavity. In contrast to most other bird groups, parrots have a prominent tongue, raising the possibility that tongue movements may also be of significant importance in vocal production in parrots, but evidence is rare and observations often anecdotal. In the current study we used X-ray cinematographic imaging of naturally vocalizing monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) to assess which articulators are possibly involved in vocal tract filtering in this species. We observed prominent tongue height changes, beak opening movements and tracheal length changes, which suggests that all of these components play an important role in modulating vocal tract resonance. Moreover, the observation of tracheal shortening as a vocal articulator in live birds has to our knowledge not been described before. We also found strong positive correlations between beak opening and amplitude as well as changes in tongue height and amplitude in several types of vocalization. Our results suggest considerable differences between parrot and songbird vocal production while at the same time the parrot's vocal articulation might more closely resemble human speech production in the sense that both make extensive use of the tongue as a vocal articulator. © 2012. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.

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