Chapter 15. Language and Our Divided Brain
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By Virginia Morell Baby common marmosets, small primates found in the forests of northeastern Brazil, must learn to take turns when calling, just as human infants learn not to interrupt. Even though the marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) don’t have language, they do exchange calls. And the discovery that a young marmoset (as in the photo above) learns to wait for another marmoset to finish its call before uttering its own sound may help us better understand the origins of human language, say scientists online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. No primate, other than humans, is a vocal learner, with the ability to hear a sound and imitate it—a talent considered essential to speech. But the marmoset researchers say that primates still exchange calls in a manner reminiscent of having a conversation because they wait for another to finish calling before vocalizing—and that this ability is often overlooked in discussions about the evolution of language. If this skill is learned, it would be even more similar to that of humans, because human babies learn to do this while babbling with their mothers. In a lab, the researchers recorded the calls of a marmoset youngster from age 4 months to 12 months and those of its mother or father while they were separated by a dark curtain. In adult exchanges, a marmoset makes a high-pitched contact call (listen to a recording here), and its fellow responds within 10 seconds. The study showed that the youngster’s responses varied depending on who was calling to them. They were less likely to interrupt their mothers, but not their dads—and both mothers and fathers would give the kids the “silent treatment” if they were interrupted. Thus, the youngster learns the first rule of polite conversation: Don’t interrupt! © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Sandra G. Boodman A Braced by her partner, Suzanne Tobin shuffled back to her car parked in the cavernous garage at Johns Hopkins Hospital late on the evening of Oct. 22, 2013, distraught about what might happen next. Tobin, then 60, had been driven by her partner, James Rapp, from their Germantown home to the Hopkins ER in hopes that doctors there could determine what was causing her relentless deterioration. Three months earlier, Tobin had held a full-time job as a copy editor at AARP in the District. She spent an hour before work striding around the Mall for exercise. Now she could no longer walk unassisted, her speech was nearly unintelligible and her left hand was so weak she could no longer hold a book. Doctors in suburban Maryland had diagnosed a stroke — or possibly a series of strokes — but were unable to explain why Tobin kept getting worse by the week. Her neurologist counseled patience and offered to prescribe antidepressants, drugs that Tobin had told him she had taken for years. An occupational therapist she’d been seeing had expressed alarm; stroke patients tended to plateau or even improve over time, not to experience a steady downward spiral. “You need to get a new neurologist,” she advised Tobin. Tobin and Rapp decided their best bet was to head to Hopkins in Baltimore. But after 12 hours and a battery of tests, including a CT, MRI and other scans, emergency physicians sent Tobin home. They found no new stroke — an earlier MRI that Rapp had brought along appeared to show an old one — nor any other problem that would require immediate hospitalization. They advised her to follow up with her regular doctors.
Fred Powledge I think I knew what was happening even before my head bounced off the hard kitchen counter on its way to the even harder stone floor. I was rapidly losing my connection with reality. My wife, Tabitha, later estimated that I was out for 10 minutes. When I emerged from unconsciousness I heard the sirens on the street in front of the house. It seemed as if half of Tucson's fire department was streaming through the front door. I was scared. At my age, which is old, you laugh at any childlike faith in your immortality. In this case, what brought on the unconsciousness was apparently a quick turn of my head while reaching for an onion to peel for the night's dinner, followed by the knockout blow from hitting the floor. I was scared. At my age, which is old, you laugh at any childlike faith in your immortality. An enormous hook and ladder and an ambulance were drawn up in front of the house, sirens winding down. The commotion was embarrassing, but it was comforting to know that my wife was in the next room, had called for help, and that 911 had responded to her call as it was supposed to. The emergency room doctor said I had a concussion — a blow to the head that our new and improved language calls a MTBI. This scared me as much as the ambulance ride itself, since it stands for "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury." © 2015 NPR
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20795 - Posted: 04.14.2015
By KEN BELSON The developers of a new drug aimed at diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, are under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration. In February, the F.D.A.’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion sent a letter to two researchers at U.C.L.A. warning them that they had improperly marketed their drug on the Internet and had made overstated claims about the drug’s potential efficacy. The researchers at U.C.L.A. have been developing a biomarker called FDDNP, which aims to identify tau protein deposits in the brain (a signature of C.T.E.) when patients are given a PET scan. To date, researchers have been able to detect C.T.E. only in brain tissue obtained posthumously. The demand for a technique that can diagnose the disease in living patients is potentially large, given growing concerns about the impact of head trauma in athletes, soldiers and others. In its letter, the F.D.A. warned that the researchers, who are partners with the company Taumark, were not allowed to market the drug and make claims about its safety or effectiveness. “Thus, these claims and presentations suggest in a promotional context that FDDNP, an investigational new drug, is safe or effective for such uses, when F.D.A. has not approved FDDNP for any use,” the letter said. The Los Angeles Times first reported the details of the F.D.A.’s letter to the researchers, Dr. Gary Small and Dr. Jorge Barrio. The researchers were told to adjust the language on Taumark’s website, which is now disabled. © 2015 The New York Times Company
By Ariana Eunjung Cha Autism has always been a tricky disorder to diagnose. There’s no such thing as a blood test, cheek swap or other accepted biological marker so specialists must depend on parent and teacher reports, observations and play assessments. Figuring out a child's trajectory once he or she is diagnosed is just as challenging. The spectrum is wide and some are destined to be on the mild end and be very talkative, sometimes almost indistinguishable from those without the disorder in some settings, while others will suffer from a more severe form and have trouble being able to speak basic words. Now scientists believe that they have a way to distinguish between those paths, at least in terms of language ability, in the toddler years using brain imaging. In an article published Thursday in the journal Neuron, scientists at the University of California-San Diego have found that children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, with good language outcomes have strikingly distinct patterns of brain activation as compared to those with poor language outcomes and typically developing toddlers. "Why some toddlers with ASD get better and develop good language and others do not has been a mystery that is of the utmost importance to solve," Eric Courchesne, one of the study’s authors and co-director of the University of California-San Diego's Autism Center, said in a statement. The images of the children in the study -- MRIs of the brain -- were taken at 12 to 29 months while their language was assessed one to two years later at 30 to 48 months.
Jordan Gaines Lewis Hodor hodor hodor. Hodor hodor? Hodor. Hodor-hodor. Hodor! Oh, um, excuse me. Did you catch what I said? Fans of the hit HBO show Game of Thrones, the fifth season of which premieres this Sunday, know what I’m referencing, anyway. Hodor is the brawny, simple-minded stableboy of the Stark family in Winterfell. His defining characteristic, of course, is that he only speaks a single word: “Hodor.” But those who read the A Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R R Martin may know something that the TV fans don’t: his name isn’t actually Hodor. According to his great-grandmother Old Nan, his real name is Walder. “No one knew where ‘Hodor’ had come from,” she says, “but when he started saying it, they started calling him by it. It was the only word he had.” Whether he intended it or not, Martin created a character who is a textbook example of someone with a neurological condition called expressive aphasia. In 1861, French physician Paul Broca was introduced to a man named Louis-Victor Leborgne. While his comprehension and mental functioning remained relatively normal, Leborgne progressively lost the ability to produce meaningful speech over a period of 20 years. Like Hodor, the man was nicknamed Tan because he only spoke a single word: “Tan.”
Link ID: 20773 - Posted: 04.10.2015
Tom Bawden Scientists have deciphered the secrets of gibbon “speech” – discovering that the apes are sophisticated communicators employing a range of more than 450 different calls to talk to their companions. The research is so significant that it could provide clues on the evolution of human speech and also suggests that other animal species could speak a more precise language than has been previously thought, according to lead author Dr Esther Clarke of Durham University. Her study found that gibbons produce different categories of “hoo” calls – relatively quiet sounds that are distinct from their more melodic “song” calls. These categories of call allow the animals to distinguish when their fellow gibbons are foraging for food, alerting them to distant noises or warning others about the presence of predators. In addition, Dr Clarke found that each category of “hoo” call can be broken down further, allowing gibbons to be even more specific in their communication. A warning about lurking raptor birds, for example, sounds different to one about pythons or clouded leopards – being pitched at a particularly low frequency to ensure it is too deep for the birds of prey to hear. The warning call denoting the presence of tigers and leopards is the same because they belong to the same class of big cats, the research found. © independent.co.uk
By KEN BELSON One of the limitations of studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, has been that researchers have been able to detect it only in tissue obtained posthumously. A study published Monday by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, though, suggests that researchers trying to develop a test that will detect the disease in living patients have taken a small step forward. The study, conducted at U.C.L.A., included 14 retired N.F.L. players who suffered from mood swings, depression and cognitive problems associated with C.T.E. The players were given PET, or positron emission tomography, scans that revealed tau protein deposits in their brains, a signature of C.T.E. Although the results were not conclusive, the distribution of tau in their brains was consistent with those found in the autopsies of players who had C.T.E. The 14 players were compared with 24 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 28 patients in a control group with no significant cognitive problems. The scans showed that the tau deposits in the 14 players were “distinctly different” from those in the patients with Alzheimer’s disease. “There seems to be an emerging new pattern we haven’t seen in any known forms of dementia, and it is definitely not normal,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, a coauthor of the study and the chairman of neurosurgery at NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill. © 2015 The New York Times Company
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D WASHINGTON — Even before Ronald Reagan became the oldest elected president, his mental state was a political issue. His adversaries often suggested his penchant for contradictory statements, forgetting names and seeming absent-mindedness could be linked to dementia. In 1980, Mr. Reagan told me that he would resign the presidency if White House doctors found him mentally unfit. Years later, those doctors and key aides told me they had not detected any changes in his mental abilities while in office. Now a clever new analysis has found that during his two terms in office, subtle changes in Mr. Reagan’s speaking patterns linked to the onset of dementia were apparent years before doctors diagnosed his Alzheimer’s disease in 1994. The findings, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease by researchers at Arizona State University, do not prove that Mr. Reagan exhibited signs of dementia that would have adversely affected his judgment and ability to make decisions in office. But the research does suggest that alterations in speech one day might be used to predict development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions years before symptoms are clinically perceptible. Detection of dementia at the earliest stages has become a high priority. Many experts now believe that yet-to-be-developed treatments are likely to be effective at preventing or slowing progression of dementia only if it is found before it significantly damages the brain. The “highly innovative” methods used by the researchers may eventually help “to further clarify the extent to which spoken-word changes are associated with normal aging or predictive of subsequent progression to the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Eric Reiman, the director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, who was not involved in the new study. © 2015 The New York Times Company
By Nicholas Bakalar Air pollution — even for just one day — significantly increases the risk of stroke, a large review of studies has found. Researchers pooled data from 103 studies involving 6.2 million stroke hospitalizations and deaths in 28 countries. The analysis, published online in BMJ, found that all types of pollution except ozone were associated with increased risk for stroke, and the higher the level of pollution, the more strokes there were. Daily increases in pollution from nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter were associated with corresponding increases in strokes and hospital admissions. The strongest associations were apparent on the day of exposure, but increases in particulate matter had longer-lasting effects. The exact reason for the effect is unclear, but studies have shown that air pollution can constrict blood vessels, increase blood pressure and increase the risk for blood clots. Other research has tied air pollution to a higher risk of heart attacks, stroke and other ills. The lead author, Dr. Anoop Shah, a lecturer in cardiology at the University of Edinburgh, said that there was little an individual can do when air pollution spikes. “If you’re elderly, or have co-morbid conditions, you should stay inside,” he said. But policies leading to cleaner air would have the greatest impact, he said. “It’s a question of getting cities and countries to change.” © 2015 The New York Times Company
Alice Park We start to talk before we can read, so hearing words, and getting familiar with their sounds, is obviously a critical part of learning a language. But in order to read, and especially in order to read quickly, our brains have to “see” words as well. At least that’s what Maximilian Riesenhuber, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center, and his colleagues found in an intriguing brain-mapping study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The scientists recruited a small group of college students to learn a set of 150 nonsense words, and they imaged their brains before and after the training. Before they learned the words, their brains registered them as a jumble of symbols. But after they were trained to give them a meaning, the words looked more like familiar words they used every day, like car, cat or apple. The difference in way the brain treated the words involved “seeing” them rather than sounding them out. The closest analogy would be for adults learning a foreign language based on a completely different alphabet system. Students would have to first learn the new alphabet, assigning sounds to each symbol, and in order to read, they would have to sound out each letter to put words together. In a person’s native language, such reading occurs in an entirely different way.
Link ID: 20719 - Posted: 03.25.2015
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Concussions are not as common in Major League Baseball as they are in professional football, but they happen often enough, with players getting hit by pitches, running into walls or catching a knee in the head sliding into a base. Catchers are particularly at risk — a foul tip off the mask will snap the neck back and give the brain a solid rattle. Collisions at the plate take a toll, too. Now, a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that position players in the majors who sustain concussions do not hit as effectively in their first weeks back after their injury. Under Major League Baseball rules, players can return after a concussion if they pass the concussion protocol — a series of interviews and tests of physical and mental functioning. But the new study found that even after passing the tests and having no apparent symptoms, hitters showed an initial decline when they returned to action. The study identified 66 position players who had concussions between 2007 and 2013, including some who never went on the disabled list. The study then compared their performance in the weeks before and after the injury. The gap was noticeable. In the two weeks before their injuries, the players hit .249 with a .315 on base percentage and a .393 slugging average. For the two weeks after the injury, their line was .227/.287/.347. Baseball instituted a seven-day disabled list in 2011, specifically to let players recover from concussions while allowing the team to maintain a full roster. But there is no set time that a player must stay out after a concussion. If he passes the protocol, he is cleared to play. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20715 - Posted: 03.24.2015
By Nicholas Weiler Where did the thief go? You might get a more accurate answer if you ask the question in German. How did she get away? Now you might want to switch to English. Speakers of the two languages put different emphasis on actions and their consequences, influencing the way they think about the world, according to a new study. The work also finds that bilinguals may get the best of both worldviews, as their thinking can be more flexible. Cognitive scientists have debated whether your native language shapes how you think since the 1940s. The idea has seen a revival in recent decades, as a growing number of studies suggested that language can prompt speakers to pay attention to certain features of the world. Russian speakers are faster to distinguish shades of blue than English speakers, for example. And Japanese speakers tend to group objects by material rather than shape, whereas Koreans focus on how tightly objects fit together. Still, skeptics argue that such results are laboratory artifacts, or at best reflect cultural differences between speakers that are unrelated to language. In the new study, researchers turned to people who speak multiple languages. By studying bilinguals, “we’re taking that classic debate and turning it on its head,” says psycholinguist Panos Athanasopoulos of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Rather than ask whether speakers of different languages have different minds, he says, “we ask, ‘Can two different minds exist within one person?’ ” Athanasopoulos and colleagues were interested in a particular difference in how English and German speakers treat events. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Matthew J.X. Malady One hour and seven minutes into the decidedly hit-or-miss 1996 comedy Black Sheep, the wiseass sidekick character played by David Spade finds himself at an unusually pronounced loss for words. While riding in a car driven by Chris Farley’s character, he glances at a fold-up map and realizes he somehow has become unfamiliar with the name for paved driving surfaces. “Robes? Rouges? Rudes?” Nothing seems right. Even when informed by Farley that the word he’s looking for is roads, Spade’s character continues to struggle: “Rowds. Row-ads.” By this point, he’s become transfixed. “That’s a total weird word,” he says, “isn’t it?” Now, it’s perhaps necessary to mention that, in the context of the film, Spade’s character is high off nitrous oxide that has leaked from the car’s engine boosters. But never mind that. Row-ad-type word wig outs similar to the one portrayed in that movie are things that actually happen, in real life, to people with full and total control over their mental capacities. These wordnesias sneak up on us at odd times when we’re writing or reading text. I was in a full-on wordnesiac state. On one of my spelling attempts, I think I even threw a K into the mix. It was bad. Here’s how they work: Every now and again, for no good or apparent reason, you peer at a standard, uncomplicated word in a section of text and, well, go all row-ads on it. If you’re typing, that means inexplicably blanking on how to spell something easy like cake or design. The reading version of wordnesia occurs when a common, correctly spelled word either seems as though it can’t possibly be spelled correctly, or like it’s some bizarre combination of letters you’ve never before seen—a grouping that, in some cases, you can’t even imagine being the proper way to compose the relevant term. © 2014 The Slate Group LLC.
Link ID: 20688 - Posted: 03.14.2015
By Gretchen Reynolds An easy, two-minute vision test administered on the sidelines after a young athlete has hit his or her head can help to reliably determine whether the athlete has sustained a concussion, according to a new study of student athletes, some as young as 5. The test is so simple and inexpensive that any coach or parent potentially could administer it, the study’s authors believe, and any league afford to provide it as a way to help evaluate and safeguard players. Those of us who coach or care for young athletes know by now that an athlete who falls or collides with something during play or seems dazed, dizzy, loses consciousness or complains of head pain should be tested for a concussion, which occurs when the brain is physically jostled within the skull. But most of us are clueless about how to test young athletes. The most commonly recommended sideline test is the Standardized Assessment of Concussion, a multipart examination during which athletes are asked to name the date, describe how they feel, memorize and recall lists of words, and do jumping jacks and other tests of coordination. Ideally, this assessment should be administered and evaluated by a medical professional. But while the sidelines of college and professional games are crowded with doctors and certified athletic trainers, few high schools and youth leagues have those resources. Most of the time, concussion testing in youth sports falls to volunteer coaches or parents with little if any medical experience. That situation prompted researchers at New York University’s Langone Concussion Center to begin wondering recently whether there might be other, easier diagnostic tools to check young players for concussions. Their thoughts soon turned to vision. “About 50 percent of the brain’s pathways are tied in some to way to vision and visual processing,” said Dr. Steven Galetta, chairman of neurology at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center and senior author of the study, which was published in The Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20680 - Posted: 03.12.2015
By Nicholas Bakalar Sleeping more than eight hours a day is associated with a higher risk for stroke, a new study has found. Researchers studied 9,692 people, ages 42 to 81, who had never had a stroke. The study tracked how many hours a night the people slept at the beginning of the study and how much nightly sleep they were getting four years later. Over the 10-year study, 346 of the study subjects suffered strokes. After controlling for more than a dozen other health and behavioral variables, the researchers found that people who slept more than eight hours a day were 46 percent more likely to have had a stroke than those who slept six to eight hours. The study, published online last week in Neurology, also found that the risk of stroke was higher among people who reported that their need for sleep had increased over the study period. The authors caution that the data on sleep duration depended on self-reports, which can be unreliable. In addition, the study identified an association between sleep and stroke risk, rather than cause and effect. Sleeping more may be an early symptom of disease that leads to stroke, rather than a cause. “It could be that there’s already something happening in the brain that precedes the stroke risk and of which excessive sleep is an early sign,” said the lead author, Yue Leng, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge. In any case, she added, “we don’t have enough evidence to apply this in clinical settings. We don’t want people to think if they sleep longer it will necessarily lead to stroke.” © 2015 The New York Times Company
Helen Shen Repeated head injuries in American football have been linked to a degenerative brain disorder later in life. Dave Duerson suspected that something was wrong with his brain. By 2011, 18 years after the former American football player had retired from the Phoenix Cardinals, he experienced frequent headaches, memory problems and an increasingly short temper. Before he killed himself, he asked that his brain be donated for study. Researchers who examined it found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative condition linked to repeated head injuries. At least 69 cases have been reported in the literature since 2000, many in former boxers and American football players (P. H. Montenigro et al. Alz. Res. Ther. 6, 68; 2014) — heightening public concern about concussions during contact sports. Yet much about CTE is unknown, from its frequency to its precise risk factors and even whether its pathology is unique. Researchers now hope to take a major step towards answering those questions. At Boston University in Massachusetts on 25–27 February, neuroscientists will convene to examine the characteristics of CTE in brain tissue from post-mortem examinations. They hope to agree on a set of diagnostic criteria for the disease, and to assess whether it is distinct from other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The effort is sorely needed, says Walter Koroshetz, acting director of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, which is organizing the meeting. “The definition is the important piece that lets you do the rest of the research,” he says. And the stakes are high. CTE is associated with memory loss, irritability, depression and explosive anger, which are thought to appear and worsen years after repeated head trauma. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20613 - Posted: 02.25.2015
By Tia Ghose A woman who had persistent headaches found there was a strange culprit for her pain: a Pilates class that caused her brain fluid to leak, according to a new case report. The brain fluid leak led to a persistent, worsening headache that was only alleviated when the 42-year-old British woman laid down, according to the report that was published in December in the Journal of Medical Case Reports. Though doctors never identified the exact location of the leak, the patient improved after a few weeks of bed rest and pain relievers. [The 16 Oddest Medical Cases] Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear liquid that flows between the brain and its outer covering, and between the spinal cord and its outer covering. Both of these structures' outer coverings are called the dura. This fluid cushions the brain and spinal cord and helps clear metabolic waste from the brain. However, sometimes holes can emerge in the dura, said Dr. Amber Luong, an otolaryngologist at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. "The most common cause [of such leaks is] trauma, like a car accident," Luong told Live Science. Often, cerebrospinal fluid leaks out of a person's nose because there is a crack in the base of the skull and a tear in the dura lining the brain. One telltale sign of a cerebrospinal leak is that there is clear, metallic-tasting fluid coming out of just one nostril, Luong said. (The woman in this case did not experience this symptom because her tear was around the spinal cord, not the brain.)
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20579 - Posted: 02.16.2015
Ewen Callaway A mysterious group of humans from the east stormed western Europe 4,500 years ago — bringing with them technologies such as the wheel, as well as a language that is the forebear of many modern tongues, suggests one of the largest studies of ancient DNA yet conducted. Vestiges of these eastern émigrés exist in the genomes of nearly all contemporary Europeans, according to the authors, who analysed genome data from nearly 100 ancient Europeans1. The first Homo sapiens to colonize Europe were hunter-gatherers who arrived from Africa, by way of the Middle East, around 45,000 years ago. (Neanderthals and other archaic human species had begun roaming the continent much earlier.) Archaeology and ancient DNA suggest that farmers from the Middle East started streaming in around 8,000 years ago, replacing the hunter-gatherers in some areas and mixing with them in others. But last year, a study of the genomes of ancient and contemporary Europeans found echoes not only of these two waves from the Middle East, but also of an enigmatic third group that they said could be from farther east2 (see 'Ancient European genomes reveal jumbled ancestry'). Ancient genes To further pin down the origins of this ghost lineage, a team led by David Reich, an evolutionary and population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, analysed nuclear DNA from the bodies of 69 individuals who lived across Europe between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago. They also examined previously published genome data from another 25 ancient Europeans, including Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old 'ice man' who was discovered on the Italian-Austrian border. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group
Link ID: 20571 - Posted: 02.13.2015
by Andy Coghlan Apple's the word. Chimpanzees can learn to grunt "apple" in two chimp languages – a finding that questions how unique our own language abilities are. Researchers have kept records of vocalisations of a group of adult chimps from the Netherlands before and after the move to Edinburgh zoo. Three years later, recordings show, the Dutch chimps had picked up the pronunciation of their Scottish hosts. The finding challenges the prevailing theory that chimp words for objects are fixed because they result from excited, involuntary outbursts. Humans can easily learn foreign words that refer to a specific object, and it was assumed that chimps and other animals could not, perhaps owing to their different brain structure. This has long been argued to be one of the talents making humans unique. The assumption has been that animals do not have control over the sounds they make, whereas we socially learn the labels for things – which is what separates us from animals, says Katie Slocombe of the University of York, UK. But this may be wrong, it seems. "The important thing we've now shown is that with the food calls, they changed the structure to fit in with their new group members, so the Dutch calls for 'apple' changed to the Edinburgh ones," says Slocombe. "It's the first time call structure has been dissociated from emotional outbursts." © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.