Bird brains offer clues to origins of speech

Research on songbirds could help in understanding origins of human speech

source: Tim Radford
Guardian February 17 2003 p16

Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist from Duke University, North Carolina, has studied the brain structure of songbirds. Songbirds, hummingbirds, and some parrots can continue to learn new sounds, and arrange them using syntax. These birds share brain patterns with receptors for glutamate, a neurotransmitter, in seven locations. This research could help in understanding why human victims of stroke may suffer language deficiencies, and it may help in discovering human brain systems for learning language. Birds attract mates and defend territories through song. Complex songs prove more attractive to the opposite sex, yet predators may also be attracted, so captive birds may be able to develop more complex songs than wild birds.