London: Bird calls consist of building blocks that are similar to syllables in human languages, according to a study. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has raised the possibility that animal sounds are constructed from smaller meaningless building blocks just like the syllables that make up human words.
Scientists led by Sabrina Engesser of the University of Zurich in Switzerland analysed the calls of the chestnut-crowned babbler — a highly social bird from the Australian Outback — and found that vocalisations in the bird, like human languages, can be broken down into distinctly notable meaningless sounds, or ‘building blocks’. Earlier research pointed that chestnut-crowned babbler calls were made of different arrangements of two different sounds “A” and “B” when the birds were performing specific behaviours, the study noted. According to the authors, the birds produced “AB” as a flight call, but when feeding their chicks in the nest, they made “BAB” provisioning calls.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time that the meaning-generating building blocks of a non-human communication system has been experimentally identified,” said co-author Simon Townsend of the University of Warwick in the UK. “This system is reminiscent of the way humans use sounds to form meaningful words,” co-author Andy Russell from the University of Exeter explained. The study raises the possibility that the capacity to generate meaning from meaningless building blocks is widespread in animals, according to the researchers.