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Rats Can Tell Human Languages Apart, Study Shows Rats Can Tell Human Languages Apart, Study Sh January 10, 2005 10:48 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rats can use the rhythm of human language to tell the difference between Dutch and Japanese, researchers in Spain reported Sunday. Their study suggests that animals, especially mammals, evolved some of the skills underlying the use and development of language long before language itself ever evolved, the researchers said. It is the first time an animal other than a human or monkey has been shown to have this skill. "These findings have remarkable parallels with data from human adults, human newborns, and cotton-top tamarins," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, which is published by the American Psychological Association. For their study neuroscientists Juan Toro and colleagues at Barcelona's Scientific Park tested 64 adult male rats. They used Dutch and Japanese because these languages were used in earlier, similar tests, and because they are very different from one another in use of words, rhythm and structure. The rats were trained to respond to either Dutch or Japanese using food as a reward. Then they were separated into four groups -- one that heard each language spoken by a native, one that heard synthesized speech, one that heard sentences read in either language by different speakers and a fourth that heard the languages played backwards. Rats rewarded for responding to Japanese did not respond to Dutch and rats trained to recognize Dutch did not respond the spoken Japanese. The rats could not tell apart Japanese or Dutch played backwards. "Results showed that rats could discriminate natural sentences when uttered by a single speaker and not when uttered by different ones, nor could they distinguish the languages when spoken by different people," the researchers wrote. Human newborns have the same problem, although tamarins can easily tell languages apart even when spoken by different people, the researchers said. "It was striking to find that rats can track certain information that seems to be so important in language development in humans," Toro said in a statement. The study shows "which abilities that humans use for language are shared with other animals, and which are uniquely human. It also suggests what sort of evolutionary precursors language might have," he added.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Hmmmm... January 10, 2005 10:01 PM

Very interesting! But...I wonder why they chose to test male rats. Are they "smarter"? All I know is that my hamster has real bad eyesight and ONLY responds to my voice. She will not come to anyone, other than me. It must be my tonal qualities that she responds to.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 January 10, 2005 11:45 PM

well, you know, even through speciesism, you have sexism... for the use of chicken for eggs, they use only females & for the use of animals for giving milk aswell... the others are thrown away....  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Why even "study" what we already KNOW? January 11, 2005 1:18 PM

It's quite possible they used male rats because they were "easier to handle" or some other "market-driven" reason that contributes to the view of animals as products or even worse they were already using the same rats to study prostate cancer or something else sex-specific. Which is one of the things I was hoping would come up in follow-up discussions to posting this article. On the one hand, I am heartened by the fact that there have been so many recent studies to back up the fact that animals are intelligent, creative, feeling and every other adjective we humans like to use to describve ourselves. I think the "scientific community's" insistence in recent centuries that all non-humans are nothing more than organic automatons is a big part of the disrespect for animals in the general population. I've discovered that there always have been scientists who knew or learned that non-humans were more like us than not. Their voices were shut down or shouted out by those scientists who knew that acknowledging that would mean radically changin the way science has been done. So if scientists use the "scientific method" to formally recognize animals "equality" than maybe we'll start to see a real shift in human enlightenment. On the other hand, the irony is that studies like this rat one is possibly cruel (and if nothing else certainly limits the animals' freedom) probably redundant and likely unnecessary. There's already ample evidence out there that pretty much every animal alive recognizes and distinguishes between individual humans and even categories of humans. I don't follow the scientific method in my observations of the animals I live with any more than I do with the human I live with. No one would doubt my assertion that my partner recognizes my voice and can make demands, comply with requests and negotiate. Well the cats, ferrets and chickens in my live do all of that as well and yet certain people think I'm crazy for saying so.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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