Language Learning in Avians

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  • No nonhuman has learned a code identical to what is considered human language, but several have acquired forms of interspecies communication. Apes, the closest phylogenetic relatives of humans, incapable of any considerable vocal learning, were taught to use elements of American Sign Language to manipulate plastic chips or to read and press computer-based symbols to communicate with humans; dolphins, further removed from humans genetically but large-brained mammals that do engage in vocal learning, interpret human signs and whistles and use their rostrum to signal via computer-based symbols; dogs, nonvocal learners but domesticated by humans, comprehend numerous human speech sounds and whistles. However, only birds—predominantly Grey parrots—with brains the size of a shelled walnut and whose last common ancestor with humans was about 300 million years ...

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