What we share with birdsong

The ability to communicate with one another through language is a key attribute of what it is to be human. In this we are not alone. Birds, for example, communicate with one another through song. In the 1950s a scientist called Thorpe discovered that young chaffinches must learn how to sing from adults. He also discovered that there was a short window of time, during the rearing of the juveniles, when the chicks needed to learn from the trills of the adults. If that window was missed, the birds never learnt how to sing properly.

The peculiar and interesting thing is that human language is similar. During the rearing of the human child there is also a window of time -here it is the years up to eight or nine years old - in which the child needs to learn language from fluent speakers. If that window is missed, the language area of the brain fails to develop properly and the developing child will never subsequently be capable of acquiring the complex skills of speech. This has been confirmed with the study of so-called feral children.

It gives an insight into the intensity with which mothers and fathers prompt babies to produce that first "mama" or "papa", and the delight that goes both ways when that first connection through language is achieved.

The Mysterious World of the Human Genome
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Published on February 20, 2017 06:33 • 70 views • Tags: babies, birds, language
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