They may not have verbs, nouns or past participles, but birds challenge the
notion that humans alone have evolved grammatical rules.
Bengal finches have their own versions of such rules – known as syntax – says Kentaro Abe of Kyoto University, Japan.
“Songbirds have a spontaneous ability to process syntactic structures in their songs,” he says.
To show a sense of syntax in the animals, Abe’s team played jumbled “ungrammatical” remixes of finch songs to the birds and measured the response calls.Although many animals, including dogs, parrots and apes are known to interpret and construct “sentences”, and recognise human words for individual objects, Abe says that only his f
inches have been shown to
have a form of grammar in their utterances.
Similar claims have been made for whale song, however.