Animal Behavior/The Correlation Between Bird Song and Human Speech
Bird Song and Human Speech
To learn their language, humans and white crowned sparrows follow similar steps, recognition, practice, and clarity. The best time for a human to learn their language is from toddler to twelve years old (Macdonald) and the best time for a white crowned sparrow to learn its song is between 10-50 days from when they were born. Both genes and environment play roles in determining the way each communicate (Alcock 25).
The first step for humans and white crowned species in learning their language can be considered recognition. White crowned sparrows and humans listen to a tutor before they begin to communicate their language. The tutor teaches the language and the particular dialect, according to the area. Just like humans, the sparrows also have a dialect depending on where they live. A white crowned sparrow has certain genes that only allow them to learn its own species’ songs. Experiments have been performed in which the sparrow was kept in isolation and played tapes of other song sparrows, the white crowned sparrow will not imitate the other species’ song, but will sing an odd song unlike either species’ song (Alcock 24-25). Humans also cannot communicate with each other using a different species’ language. A study was done in Avignon, France that observed children who were brought up by wolves. It was observed that the children spoke no language at all. Before studies of this kind were done it was thought that the children might learn to communicate with the wolves, just like the Tarzan story. This is not true, the children could not speak the human language nor the language of the wolves (Macdonald). It is a combination of environment and genes that tell white crowned sparrows and humans to learn their proper language. Genes tell the species to only learn the language of their own species and environment plays a factor in determining which dialect each will use.
Once the white crowned sparrow or infant has recognized its species, song, they can begin to practice the language. Infants first communicate by making sounds. The sounds can range from grunts to sounds that mimic their surrounding environments. For example, before babies can say words, they might say moo- moo when looking at a cow. After sounds come words. By the time the infant reaches one year, they should be making sentences out of words (Macdonald). The white crowned sparrow also does not immediately master its song. The sparrow will first sing a short subsong derived from the tutor’s full song. The sparrows keep practicing their subsong just as infants practice their words. After the sparrow has mastered its subsong it can start to form a full song. In both species it is necessary for them to hear themselves in order to vocalize their language correctly (Alcock 26).
In conclusion, both white crowned sparrows first listen and recognize their particular species’ language. A white crowned sparrow has a tutor to teach the song. Infants usually have parents that teach them their verbal language. Then they must practice the language, starting off slow with sounds and building up. Both species will continue to improve and clarify their language throughout their lives.
- Alcock J. 2001. Animal Behavior. 7th ed. Sunderland: Sinauer.
- Macdonald A. 2003. The Beginnings of a Spoken Language. New Orleans. 1 Sept.