Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bird Course

I have thoughts about the softwood lumber deal, but I won't be able to articulate them properly right now.

So here's an irrelevant bit of filler: birds can be taught grammar!

The simplest grammar, long thought to be one of the skills that separate man from beast, can be taught to a common songbird, new research suggests.

Starlings learned to differentiate between a regular birdsong “sentence” and one containing a clause or another sentence of warbling, according to a study in Thursday's journal Nature. It took University of California at San Diego psychology researcher Tim Gentner a month and about 15,000 training attempts, with food as a reward, to get the birds to recognize the most basic of grammar in their own bird language.

Yet what they learned may shake up the field of linguistics.

While many animals can roar, sing, grunt or otherwise make noise, linguists have contended for years that the key to distinguishing language skills goes back to our elementary school teachers and basic grammar.

Sentences that contain an explanatory clause are something that humans can recognize, but not animals, researchers figured.

If birds do it, why can't newspaper editors do it? Or bloggers, for that matter?

Maybe we can also figure out if an infinite number of monkeys can reproduce the works of Shakespeare, too.

Science marches on!

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