Research Highlights

Nature 462, 700 (10 December 2009) | doi:10.1038/462700a; Published online 9 December 2009

Animal perception: When 'wit' is not 'wet'

Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.1788 (2009)

Animal perception: When 'wit' is not 'wet'


Humans can distinguish between similar-sounding words regardless of the speaker. Debate has centred on whether this ability is unique to humans or exists in other animals and contributed to the evolution of human speech.

To tackle the question, Verena Ohms of the Institute of Biology Leiden in the Netherlands and her colleagues recorded 21 men and women saying the Dutch words 'wit' and 'wet', then played them back for eight zebra finches (pictured). Enticed by birdseed, the finches learned to discriminate between the two words. The birds could still tell the two apart when the words were spoken by people they hadn't heard before, including people of the opposite sex.

Readers' Comments

If you find something abusive or inappropriate or which does not otherwise comply with our Terms and Conditions or Community Guidelines, please select the relevant 'Report this comment' link.

There are currently no comments.

Add your own comment

This is a public forum. Please keep to our Community Guidelines. You can be controversial, but please don't get personal or offensive and do keep it brief. Remember our threads are for feedback and discussion - not for publishing papers, press releases or advertisements.

You need to be registered with Nature and agree to our Community Guidelines to leave a comment. Please log in or register as a new user. You will be re-directed back to this page.