On the phonetic and syntactic processing abilities of birds: from songs to speech and artificial grammars

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2014 Oct:28:157-64. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2014.07.019. Epub 2014 Aug 25.


Like speech and language, the songs of many songbirds consist of learned, rapidly produced, structured sequences of distinct vocal units, originating from an interplay between experience and learning biases. Songs are species specific, but also show considerable within species variation in elements or element sequencing. This variation implies that birds possess mechanisms to identify, categorize and combine sounds. I review the abilities for speech sound perception and categorization, as well as for grammatical rule learning by birds. Speech sound perception in birds is in many ways comparable to human speech perception. Birds can also detect and generalize patterns underlying artificially arranged strings of vocal elements. However, there is a need for more comparative studies to examine the limits of their rule learning abilities and how they relate to those of humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Phonetics*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*