Chapter 19. Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry

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Bruce Bower NEW ORLEANS — A relatively small brain can pack a big evolutionary punch. Consider Homo naledi, a famously puzzling fossil species in the human genus. Despite having a brain only slightly larger than a chimpanzee’s, H. naledi displays key humanlike neural features, two anthropologists reported April 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Those brain characteristics include a region corresponding to Broca’s area, which spans parts of the right and left sides of the brain in present-day people. The left side is typically involved in speech and language. “It looks like Homo naledi’s brain evolved a huge amount of shape change that supported social emotions and advanced communication of some type,” said Shawn Hurst of Indiana University Bloomington, who presented the new findings. “We can’t say for sure whether that included language.” Frontal brain locations near Broca’s area contribute to social emotions such as empathy, pride and shame. As interactions within groups became more complex in ancient Homo species, neural capacities for experiencing social emotions and communicating verbally blossomed, Hurst suspects. Scientists don’t know how long ago H. naledi inhabited Africa’s southern tip. If H. naledi lived 2 million or even 900,000 years ago, as some researchers have suggested (SN: 8/6/16, p. 12), humanlike brains with a language-related area would be shocking. A capacity for language is thought to have emerged in Homo over the last few hundred thousand years at most. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 23541 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS In her 30s, Sophie Marat, now 42, used to record herself reading poetry aloud, then play it back to hear if she sounded like a woman. Ms. Marat, who is transgender, had spent years trying to remake her voice in private by speaking in a higher pitch but ultimately felt that her efforts were hopeless. “I was feeling like changing my voice to match my gender identity was almost impossible,” she said. “It was terrible.” Ms. Marat’s transition from male to female has been a gradual evolution. She had come out to friends and family back home in Mexico, then began to wear skirts to work as a software engineer in Manhattan. Still, her confidence would falter with everyday tasks like ordering takeout. “It was really painful to speak on the phone,” she said, “because they would reply, ‘O.K., sir.’” That was before she started her weekly sessions with a voice therapist at New York University’s speech-language-hearing clinic, one of a growing number of programs that cater to transgender clients seeking to retrain their voices. Just as some transgender women and men choose to take hormones or have surgery, or choose neither, some seek to feminize or masculinize their voices. Many say they want a voice that matches their appearance or that the change allows them to escape unwanted attention. There’s also a growing recognition among health professionals who have transgender patients that altering one’s voice can improve quality of life and reduce distress. After eight months, she had raised her pitch, worked on moving her resonance forward and finishing phrases with an open ending, rather than bluntly. “This isn’t just a sidebar,” said Sandy Hirsch, a Seattle-based speech language pathologist who was a co-author of the pioneering textbook on transgender voice and communication therapy. “It’s an integral part of care for transgender people as they transition.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Language
Link ID: 23539 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By Virginia Morell Humpback whales are known for their operatic songs that carry across the seas. Their calves, however, whisper, uttering soft squeaks and grunts to their mothers (which you can hear above). Now, a new study suggests that loud calf voices can also attract some unwanted visitors: male humpbacks, who might separate the pair by trying to mate with the mother, and killer whales, who dine on young humpbacks. To record their sounds, scientists placed temporary tagging devices on eight humpback whale mothers and calves in the Exmouth Gulf off Western Australia, where the young whales spend months suckling to gain enough weight for their annual migrations to the Antarctic or Arctic. After listening to the recordings, scientists say the calves’ careful whispers are not cries for food, as previously thought. Instead, they may help them stay in close contact with their mothers when swimming. And, say researchers, writing today in Functional Ecology, the low decibel sounds help keep would-be predators away from the “nursery.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Communication
Link ID: 23534 - Posted: 04.26.2017

By Cormac McCarthy I call it the Kekulé Problem because among the myriad instances of scientific problems solved in the sleep of the inquirer Kekulé’s is probably the best known. He was trying to arrive at the configuration of the benzene molecule and not making much progress when he fell asleep in front of the fire and had his famous dream of a snake coiled in a hoop with its tail in its mouth—the ouroboros of mythology—and woke exclaiming to himself: “It’s a ring. The molecule is in the form of a ring.” Well. The problem of course—not Kekulé’s but ours—is that since the unconscious understands language perfectly well or it would not understand the problem in the first place, why doesnt it simply answer Kekulé’s question with something like: “Kekulé, it’s a bloody ring.” To which our scientist might respond: “Okay. Got it. Thanks.” Why the snake? That is, why is the unconscious so loathe to speak to us? Why the images, metaphors, pictures? Why the dreams, for that matter. A logical place to begin would be to define what the unconscious is in the first place. To do this we have to set aside the jargon of modern psychology and get back to biology. The unconscious is a biological system before it is anything else. To put it as pithily as possibly—and as accurately—the unconscious is a machine for operating an animal. All animals have an unconscious. If they didnt they would be plants. We may sometimes credit ours with duties it doesnt actually perform. Systems at a certain level of necessity may require their own mechanics of governance. Breathing, for instance, is not controlled by the unconscious but by the pons and the medulla oblongata, two systems located in the brainstem. Except of course in the case of cetaceans, who have to breathe when they come up for air. An autonomous system wouldnt work here. The first dolphin anesthetized on an operating table simply died. (How do they sleep? With half of their brain alternately.) But the duties of the unconscious are beyond counting. Everything from scratching an itch to solving math problems. © 2017 NautilusThink Inc,

Keyword: Language; Consciousness
Link ID: 23525 - Posted: 04.22.2017

By Jia Naqvi The rate of stroke among young people has apparently been rising steadily since 1995, according to a study published this week. Hospitalization rates for stroke increased for women between the ages of 18 and 44, and nearly doubled for men in that age range from 1995 through 2012. Using more-detailed data for 2003 through 2012, the researchers found that rates of hospitalizations for acute ischemic stroke increased by nearly 42 percent for men 35 to 44, while rates for women of the same age group increased by 30 percent over the same time, the study published in the JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Across all adults, including those in older age ranges, stroke was the fifth leading cause of death in 2013. Overall mortality rates from strokes have significantly decreased over the past 50 years due to multiple factors, including better treatment for hypertension and increased use of aspirin, even as incidence of acute ischemic stroke among young adults has been on the rise. The study also looked at stroke risk factors and whether there were any changes in their prevalence from 2003 to 2012. The likelihood of having three or more of five common risk factors — diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders, obesity and tobacco use — doubled in men and women hospitalized for acute ischemic strokes. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post=

Keyword: Stroke; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23496 - Posted: 04.17.2017

by Laura Sanders The way babies learn to speak is nothing short of breathtaking. Their brains are learning the differences between sounds, rehearsing mouth movements and mastering vocabulary by putting words into meaningful context. It’s a lot to fit in between naps and diaper changes. A recent study shows just how durable this early language learning is. Dutch-speaking adults who were adopted from South Korea as preverbal babies held on to latent Korean language skills, researchers report online January 18 in Royal Society Open Science. In the first months of their lives, these people had already laid down the foundation for speaking Korean — a foundation that persisted for decades undetected, only revealing itself later in careful laboratory tests. Researchers tested how well people could learn to identify and speak tricky Korean sounds. “For Korean listeners, these sounds are easy to distinguish, but for second-language learners they are very difficult to master,” says study coauthor Mirjam Broersma, a psycholinguist of Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. For instance, a native Dutch speaker would listen to three distinct Korean sounds and hear only the same “t” sound. Broersma and her colleagues compared the language-absorbing skills of a group of 29 native Dutch speakers to 29 South Korea-born Dutch speakers. Half of the adoptees moved to the Netherlands when they were older than 17 months — ages at which the kids had probably begun talking. The other half were adopted as preverbal babies younger than 6 months. As a group, the South Korea-born adults outperformed the native-born Dutch adults, more easily learning both to recognize and speak the Korean sounds. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Language; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23455 - Posted: 04.06.2017

Jon Hamilton The U.S. military is trying to figure out whether certain heavy weapons are putting U.S. troops in danger. The concern centers on the possibility of brain injuries from shoulder-fired weapons like the Carl Gustaf, a recoilless rifle that resembles a bazooka and is powerful enough to blow up a tank. A single round for the Carl Gustaf can weigh nearly 10 pounds. The shell leaves the gun's barrel at more than 500 miles per hour. And as the weapon fires, it directs an explosive burst of hot gases out of the back of the barrel. For safety reasons, troops are trained to take positions to the side of weapons like this. Even so, they get hit by powerful blast waves coming from both the muzzle and breech. "It feels like you get punched in your whole body," is the way one Army gunner described the experience in a military video made in Afghanistan. "The blast bounces off the ground and it overwhelms you." During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military recognized that the blast from a roadside bomb could injure a service member's brain without leaving a scratch. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops sustained this sort of mild traumatic brain injury, which has been linked to long-term problems ranging from memory lapses to post-traumatic stress disorder. Also during those wars, the military began to consider the effects on the brain of repeated blasts from weapons like the Carl Gustaf. And some members of Congress became concerned. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Hearing
Link ID: 23451 - Posted: 04.05.2017

By Matt Reynolds Google’s latest take on machine translation could make it easier for people to communicate with those speaking a different language, by translating speech directly into text in a language they understand. Machine translation of speech normally works by first converting it into text, then translating that into text in another language. But any error in speech recognition will lead to an error in transcription and a mistake in the translation. Researchers at Google Brain, the tech giant’s deep learning research arm, have turned to neural networks to cut out the middle step. By skipping transcription, the approach could potentially allow for more accurate and quicker translations. The team trained its system on hundreds of hours of Spanish audio with corresponding English text. In each case, it used several layers of neural networks – computer systems loosely modelled on the human brain – to match sections of the spoken Spanish with the written translation. To do this, it analysed the waveform of the Spanish audio to learn which parts seemed to correspond with which chunks of written English. When it was then asked to translate, each neural layer used this knowledge to manipulate the audio waveform until it was turned into the corresponding section of written English. “It learns to find patterns of correspondence between the waveforms in the source language and the written text,” says Dzmitry Bahdanau at the University of Montreal in Canada, who wasn’t involved with the work. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Robotics
Link ID: 23450 - Posted: 04.05.2017

By Des Bieler Brain injuries are a danger in many sports, but for none more than football and its most profitable enterprise, the National Football League. The NFL is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a concussion-lawsuit settlement and has poured tens of millions into research on measuring and preventing head trauma. Now some scientists are using an NFL-backed technology to examine blood samples for proteins that have been shown to correlate with concussion and other injuries. One of the most intriguing of these proteins, which could help create better tests for traumatic brain injury, is called neurofilament light — or, as it’s known for short, NFL. That’s right, a protein called “NFL” may wind up helping the NFL address its most vexing medical problem. “It's just a remarkable coincidence,” said Kevin Hrusovsky, chief executive of Quanterix, a company that has received $800,000 in grant money from the NFL through the league's “Head Health Challenge” partnership with GE. Quanterix's technology allows users to zero in on molecules with such precision that Hrusovsky likened it to “being able to see a grain of sand in 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.” That is crucial, because only tiny amounts of the proteins, referred to as “biomarkers,” dribble across the blood-brain barrier from the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain, where they would be found in larger quantities. The ability to spot sub-concussion injuries is important because they often go undetected by conventional methods and yet are increasingly seen as major threats to long-term health. The problem with simply sampling athletes' cerebrospinal fluid, of course, is that requires a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, which is a lot to ask in the middle of a football game (or in any other time and place, for that matter). Pricking an athlete's finger for a blood test and getting the results 15 to 20 minutes later makes for a much more reasonable process, albeit one still a long way from implementation. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23414 - Posted: 03.28.2017

Ian Sample Science editor Doctors have stumbled on an unlikely source for a drug to ward off brain damage caused by strokes: the venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world. A bite from an Australian funnel web spider can kill a human in 15 minutes, but a harmless ingredient found in the venom can protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when given hours after the event, scientists say. If the compound fares well in human trials, it could become the first drug that doctors have to protect against the devastating loss of neurons that strokes can cause. Researchers discovered the protective molecule by chance as they sequenced the DNA of toxins in the venom of the Darling Downs funnel web spider (Hadronyche infensa) that lives in Queensland and New South Wales. Venom from three spiders was gathered for the study after scientists trapped and “milked exhaustively” three spiders on Orchid beach, about 400km north of Brisbane. The molecule, called Hi1a, stood out because it looked like two copies of another brain cell-protecting chemical stitched together. It was so intriguing that scientists decided to synthesise the compound and test its powers. “It proved to be even more potent,” said Glenn King at the University of Queensland’s centre for pain research. Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted and the brain is starved of oxygen. About 85% of strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels in the brain, with the rest due to bleeds when vessels rupture. Approximately six million people a year die from stroke, making it the second largest cause of death worldwide after heart attacks. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Stroke; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23384 - Posted: 03.21.2017

By Mike Stobbe, Elderly people are suffering concussions and other brain injuries from falls at what appear to be unprecedented rates, according to a new report from U.S. government researchers. The reason for the increase isn't clear, the report's authors said. But one likely factor is that a growing number of elderly people are living at home and taking repeated tumbles, said one expert. "Many older adults are afraid their independence will be taken away if they admit to falling, and so they minimize it," said Dr. Lauren Southerland, an Ohio State University emergency physician who specializes in geriatric care. But what may seem like a mild initial fall may cause concussions or other problems that increase the chances of future falls — and more severe injuries, she said. Whatever the cause, the numbers are striking, according to the new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in every 45 Americans 75 and older suffered brain injuries that resulted in emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths in 2013. The rate for that age group jumped 76 per cent from 2007. The rate of these injuries for people of all ages rose 39 per cent over that time, hitting a record level, the CDC found. Falls account for 90 per cent of hip and wrist fractures and 60 per cent of head injuries among people aged 65 and older, Canadian researchers have previously reported. The report, which explored brain injuries in general, also found an increase in brain injuries from suicides and suicide attempts, mainly gunshot wounds to the head. Brain injuries from car crashes fell. But the elderly suffered at far higher rates than any other group. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23370 - Posted: 03.17.2017

By Bob Grant In the past decade, some bat species have been added to the ranks of “singing” animals, with complex, mostly ultrasonic vocalizations that, when slowed down, rival the tunes of some songbirds. Like birds, bats broadcast chirps, warbles, and trills to attract mates and defend territories. There are about 1,300 known bat species, and the social vocalizations of about 50 have been studied. Of those, researchers have shown that about 20 species seem to be singing, with songs that are differentiated from simpler calls by both their structural complexity and their function. Bats don’t sound like birds to the naked ear; most singing species broadcast predominately in the ultrasonic range, undetectable by humans. And in contrast to the often lengthy songs of avian species, the flying mammals sing in repeated bursts of only a few hundred milliseconds. Researchers must first slow down the bat songs—so that their frequencies drop into the audible range—to hear the similarities. Kirsten Bohn, a behavioral biologist at Johns Hopkins University, first heard Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) sing more than 10 years ago, when she was a postdoc in the lab of Mike Smotherman at Texas A&M University. “I started hearing a couple of these songs slowed down,” she recalls. “And it really was like, ‘Holy moly—that’s a song! That sounds like a bird.’” The neural circuitry used to learn and produce song may also share similarities between bats and birds. Bohn and Smotherman say they’ve gathered some tantalizing evidence that bats use some of the same brain regions—namely, the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex—that birds rely upon to produce, process, and perhaps even learn songs. “We have an idea of how the neural circuits control vocalizing in the bats and how they might be adapted to produce song,” Smotherman says. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Hearing; Language
Link ID: 23369 - Posted: 03.17.2017

By Timothy Revell Who would you get to observe differences in how men, women and children interact? A robot in a fur-lined hat, of course. Experiments using a robotic head, called Furhat, aimed to uncover inequalities in people’s participation when working on a shared activity, and see if a robot could help redress the balance. They revealed that when a woman is paired in conversation with another woman, she speaks more than if paired with a man. And two men paired together speak less than two women. But this only holds for adults. “Surprisingly, we didn’t find this same pattern for boys and girls. Gender didn’t make much difference to how much children speak,” says Gabriel Skantze at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, who is also one of the robot’s creators. Furhat interacted with 540 visitors at the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology over nine days. Two people at a time would sit at an interactive table with a touchscreen opposite the robot. They were asked to play a game that involved sorting a set of virtual picture cards, such as arranging images of historical inventions in chronological order. The people worked with the robot to try to solve the task. During this time, the robot’s sensors tracked how long each person spoke for. “This turned out to be a really nice opportunity to study the differences between men and women, and adults and children,” says Skantze. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23367 - Posted: 03.17.2017

Jon Hamilton An orangutan named Rocky is helping scientists figure out when early humans might have uttered the first word. Rocky, who is 12 and lives at the Indianapolis Zoo, has shown that he can control his vocal cords much the way people do. He can learn new vocal sounds and even match the pitch of sounds made by a person. "Rocky, and probably other great apes, can do things with their vocal apparatus that, for decades, people have asserted was impossible," says Rob Shumaker, the zoo's director, who has studied orangutans for more than 30 years. Rocky's abilities suggest that our human ancestors could have begun speaking 10 million years ago, about the time humans and great apes diverged, Shumaker says. Until now, many scientists thought that speech required changes in the brain and vocal apparatus that evolved more recently, during the past 2 million years. The vocal abilities of orangutans might have gone undetected had it not been for Rocky, an ape with an unusual past and a rare relationship with people. Rocky was separated from his mother soon after he was born, and spent his early years raised largely by people, and working in show business. "He was certainly the most visible orangutan in entertainment at the time," says Shumaker. "TV commercials, things like that."

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 23354 - Posted: 03.14.2017

Susan Milius Catch sight of someone scratching and out of nowhere comes an itch, too. Now, it turns out mice suffer the same strange phenomenon. Tests with mice that watched itchy neighbors, or even just videos of scratching mice, provide the first clear evidence of contagious scratching spreading mouse-to-mouse, says neuroscientist Zhou-Feng Chen of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The quirk opens new possibilities for exploring the neuroscience behind the spread of contagious behaviors. For the ghostly itch, experiments trace scratching to a peptide nicknamed GRP and areas of the mouse brain better known for keeping the beat of circadian rhythms, Chen and colleagues found. They report the results in the March 10 Science. In discovering this, “there were lots of surprises,” Chen says. One was that mice, nocturnal animals that mostly sniff and whisker-brush their way through the dark, would be sensitive to the sight of another mouse scratching. Yet Chen had his own irresistible itch to test the “crazy idea,” he says. Researchers housed mice that didn’t scratch any more than normal within sight of mice that flicked and thumped their paws frequently at itchy skin. Videos recorded instances of normal mice looking at an itch-prone mouse mid-scratch and, shortly after, scratching themselves. In comparison, mice with not-very-itchy neighbors looked at those neighbors at about the same frequency but rarely scratched immediately afterward. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23341 - Posted: 03.10.2017

By Andy Coghlan Tiny particles secreted in response to head injury in the brains of mice could help explain how inflammation spreads and ultimately boosts the risk of developing dementia. Head injuries are increasingly being linked to cognitive problems and degenerative brain disease in later life. Mysterious particles a micrometre in diameter have previously been found in the spinal fluid of people with traumatic brain injury, but their function has remained unknown. Now Alan Faden at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and his colleagues have discovered that activated immune cells called microglia secrete such microparticles in response to brain injury, and they seem to spread inflammation well beyond the injury site itself. They can even cause brain inflammation when injected into uninjured animals. The particles have receptors that latch onto cells, and are packed with chemicals such as interleukins, which trigger inflammation, and fragments of RNA capable of switching whole suites of genes on or off. When Faden injured the brains of sedated mice, the microparticles spread well beyond the site of damage. Further experiments on cultured microglial cells revealed that the microparticles activate resting microglia, making them capable of triggering further inflammation themselves. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Glia
Link ID: 23339 - Posted: 03.10.2017

By Andy Coghlan In primates such as humans, living in cooperative societies usually means having bigger brains — with brainpower needed to navigate complex social situations. But surprisingly, in birds the opposite may be true. Group-living woodpecker species have been found to have smaller brains than solitary ones. Cooperative societies might in fact enable birds to jettison all that brainpower otherwise needed on their own to constantly out-think, outfox and outcompete wily rivals, say researchers. Socialism in birds may therefore mean the individuals can afford to get dumber. The results are based on a comparison of brain sizes in 61 woodpecker species. The eight group-living species identified typically had brains that were roughly 30 per cent smaller than solitary and pair-living ones. “It’s a pretty big effect,” says lead researcher Richard Byrne at the University of St Andrews in the UK. Byrne’s explanation is that a solitary life is more taxing on the woodpecker brain than for those in cooperative groups, in which a kind of group-wide “social brain” takes the strain off individuals when a challenge arises. Group-living acorn woodpeckers in North America, for example, are well known for creating collective “granaries” of acorns by jamming them into crevices accessible to the whole group during hard times. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 23328 - Posted: 03.08.2017

By The Scientist Staff For thousands of years, people have appreciated birdsong as one of nature’s most melodic sounds. And for at least a few centuries, researchers have been talking about—and analyzing— birdsong, some attaching the label “music” to the avian behavior. In the mid-17th century, for example, German scholar Athanasius Kircher transcribed bird song with musical notation. Whether singing avian species hear their calls in a musical sense is, of course, anybody’s guess. But still today, it’s fairly uncontroversial to speak about bird vocalizations using terms such as “song” and “music.” Around the animal kingdom, several nonavians also produce sounds that are sometimes discussed using a musical vocabulary. Whale songs echo through the ocean for hundreds of miles, while frogs and crickets chorus on warm summer nights throughout much of the world. The stringency of the criteria for earning a label such as song varies by taxon, however. Birds, whales, mice, and even bats have a vocal repertoire that includes songs and simpler calls, while any insect or fish that produces sound for the sake of communication is considered, at least by some, to be “singing”—though no scientist seriously compares these species’ chirps and grunts to birdsong. Semantics aside, more and more tonal or cadenced animal communication signals are attracting the attention of researchers. Technological advancements have enabled the study of mouse and bat calls that are broadcast in the ultrasonic range, as well as of the love songs of fruit flies, which vibrate their wings to produce sound within the frequency range of human hearing, but do so a million times more quietly than our ears can detect. And research continues to delve into the musical skills of diverse bird species that have long been recognized for their singing prowess, confirming that there is an overlap between the genes and brain areas involved in bird and human vocal learning. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Animal Communication
Link ID: 23321 - Posted: 03.07.2017

Bruce Bower The social lives of macaques and baboons play out in what primatologist Julia Fischer calls “a magnificent opera.” When young Barbary macaques reach about 6 months, they fight nightly with their mothers. Young ones want the “maternal embrace” as they snooze; mothers want precious alone time. Getting pushed away and bitten by dear old mom doesn’t deter young macaques. But they’re on their own when a new brother or sister comes along. In Monkeytalk, Fischer describes how the monkey species she studies have evolved their own forms of intelligence and communication. Connections exist between monkey and human minds, but Fischer regards differences among primate species as particularly compelling. She connects lab studies of monkeys and apes to her observations of wild monkeys while mixing in offbeat personal anecdotes of life in the field. Fischer catapulted into a career chasing down monkeys in 1993. While still in college, she monitored captive Barbary macaques. That led to fieldwork among wild macaques in Morocco. In macaque communities, females hold central roles because young males move to other groups to mate. Members of closely related, cooperative female clans gain an edge in competing for status with male newcomers. Still, adult males typically outrank females. Fischer describes how the monkeys strategically alternate between attacking and forging alliances. After forging her own key scientific alliances, Fischer moved on to study baboons in Africa, where she entered the bureaucratic jungle. Obtaining papers for a car in Senegal, for instance, took Fischer several days. She first had to shop for a snazzy outfit to impress male paper-pushers, she says. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Language; Animal Communication
Link ID: 23315 - Posted: 03.06.2017

By Hanoch Ben-Yami Human intelligence, even in its most basic forms, is expressed in our language, and is also partly dependent on our linguistic capacity. Homer, Darwin and Einstein could obviously not have achieved what they did without language—but neither could a child in kindergarten. And this raises an important question about animal intelligence. Although we don’t expect a chimpanzee to write an epic or a dolphin to develop a scientific theory, it has frequently been asked whether these or other animals are close in intelligence to children in young children. If so, we must wonder whether animals can acquire a language. In the last half century, much effort has been put trying answer that question by teaching animals, primarily apes, a basic language. There have been some limited successes, with animals using signs to obtain things in which they were interested, for instance. But no animal has yet acquired the linguistic capability that children have already in their third year of life. “Why?” This is a question children start asking during by the age of three at the latest. No animal has yet asked anything. “Why?” is a very important question: it shows that those asking it are aware they don’t know something they wish to know. Understanding the why-question is also necessary for the ability to justify our actions and thoughts. The fact that animals don’t ask “why?” shows they don’t aspire to knowledge and are incapable of justification. “No!” © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 23298 - Posted: 03.01.2017