The Christian Science Monitor interviewed Todd M. Freeberg for a story about the similarities between bird and human communication. A new study shows that birds use compositional syntax–combining different words to communicate a compound meaning–to communicate, much like humans do. The scientists studied a bird called the Japanese great tit, which uses note types together dubbed A, B, C, and D to form calls.
Freeberg, an associate professor of psychology who was not part of the study, told the newspaper that “there is no indication the Japanese great tits produce a D-ABC call. They may be responding to the D-ABC playbacks simply because they sound novel or highly atypical, and not because they recognize a syntax violation.”
He added that, “hopefully one day we can find a parid (chickadees, tits, titmice) species that naturally produces something like ABCD and BCAD (for example) variations in its day-to-day calling behavior. Then, if experimental playbacks were to reveal that birds responded to ABCD playbacks differently than they did to BCAD playbacks, that would go a much longer way toward a convincing argument about compositional syntax!” Read the full story online.