Syntax and Bird Calls
March 8, 2016 2:30 PM   Subscribe

 
the great tits use different call combinations to coordinate various social activities, and take advantage of syntax to trigger specific behavioral responses from other great tits.

Not merely "great" tits, apparently; these are incredible, fantastic, groundbreaking, and marvelously unique tits! Hooray for these wonderful tits!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:47 PM on March 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I hope somebody is checking on Chomsky in case his head explodes.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:54 PM on March 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


From the look of it, the birds are responding to a message in one order, and failing to respond when it's in a different order.

What would be very exciting is if they found a message that causes the birds to respond differently to the same "words" in a different order, rather than simply failing to respond.

Still, a fascinating result.

I hope somebody is checking on Chomsky in case his head explodes.

Chomsky would immediately assert that a) the birds have a universal grammar and b) their communication should be monitored for admissions that they've been part of Southeast Asian genocides.
posted by clawsoon at 2:57 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


They appear to mean the Japanese tit (Parus minor) specifically as opposed to the bird commonly known as the Great Tit (Parus major).

That's interesting because here where I live we are surrounded by flocks of Great tits and Blue tits as well. Presumably the same might apply to this bird's relatives. I'll have to pay even more attention. All i've noticed is the alarm calls which signal a predator, usually a buzzard appearing nearby.
posted by vacapinta at 2:57 PM on March 8, 2016


Although this is a very interesting result, recursive grammar (which allows the creation of unlimited sentences) is still unique to humans. I look forward to that being proven wrong.
posted by Rangi at 3:18 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Excuse me! Does anyone here speak tit?"
posted by gottabefunky at 3:26 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


And here I was expecting it to be a corvid. I will point out, as an increasingly avid birder, that tufted titmice have a hell of a lot more calls than I previously realized, and they're in the same family as this bird.
posted by mollweide at 4:08 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Formal recursion shouldn't be a huge leap. They got the ordering down, all that's needed some more memory.
posted by polymodus at 6:06 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh boy oh boy what a great reason to link to one of my favorite short stories ever, The Author of the Acacia Seeds (And Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:31 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was curious about whether these were the same species as we get in the UK and managed to stop short just before I Googled "Japanese great tits" on my work computer.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:42 AM on March 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yes, I expected a crow or raven, too.

Yes, Rangi, the first thing I thought of was my linguistic prof insisting order means nothing--no recursive grammar here. Animals communicate, but they don"t have speech.

Excuse me while I go watch Koko talking. My prof would be disgusted with me.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:32 AM on March 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


EndsOfInvention: "I was curious about whether these were the same species as we get in the UK and managed to stop short just before I Googled "Japanese great tits" on my work computer."

And don't even think about googling "blue tits" as mentioned in this comment thread!

I was beaten to the punch, also... I was going to say "Great tits or greatest tits!"

My inner 12 year old is snickering so much now at talking tits.
posted by symbioid at 8:38 AM on March 9, 2016


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