A comparative study of human and parrot phonation: acoustic and articulatory correlates of vowels

J Acoust Soc Am. 1994 Aug;96(2 Pt 1):634-48. doi: 10.1121/1.410303.


General acoustic and articulatory parallels between human and avian production of human vowels have been identified. A complete set of vowels from an African Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) and a limited set from a Yellow-naped Amazon parrot (Amazonica ochrocephala auropalliata) have been analyzed. Comparison of human and avian acoustic parameters demonstrated both differences (e.g., absolute values of first formant frequencies) and similarities (e.g., separation of vowels into back and front categories with respect to tongue placement) in acoustic properties of avian and human speech. Similarities and differences were also found in articulatory mechanisms: Parrots, for example, use their tongues in some but not all the ways used by humans to produce vowels. Because humans perceive and correctly label vowels produced by psittacids despite differences in avian and human articulatory and acoustic parameters, the findings (a) are consistent with research that demonstrates the flexibility of vowel perception by humans and (b) suggest that the perceptual discontinuities that are exploited by speech may be basic to vertebrates rather than to mammals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parrots / physiology*
  • Phonation / physiology*
  • Phonetics*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Speech Production Measurement
  • Tongue / anatomy & histology
  • Trachea / anatomy & histology
  • Vocalization, Animal