Friday, April 28, 2006

The Thing About Birds Learning Grammar...

Is ridiculous, I think- but for a much more thoughtful and expert discussion of this item from the news, work through the Language Log's explanation. The fact that animals can be trained (Pavlov-style) to notice variations in the patterns of noises has nothing to do with the ability to use grammatical rules to generate completely new sentences or express original thoughts. When they teach a monkey to order at Starbuck's (say, a customized mocha with a dash of hazelnut syrup and some extra room on top for stirring in more Splenda), then I'll buy it that we've crossed the human-animal barrier. The fact that birds can tell the difference between "S.O.S." and "S.S.S." in sparrow-like Morse Code - still without knowing what either signal means, or that either has meaning in the first place - basically tells me that birds can hear. Did they get a grant to prove that?