Hoover: A Talking Seal

August 10th, 2010 Comments Off

Hoover: A Talking Seal

Hoover

Hoover was an orphaned harbour seal pup picked up and raised by fisherman in Maine (Cundy Harbor Maine on May5 1971). After Hoover became too large, he was donated to the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts. When he began » Read the rest of this entry «

Vocal Learning and Vocal Control in Pinnipeds

August 10th, 2010 Comments Off

Vocal Learning and Vocal Control in Pinnipeds

(or, why should anyone care about talking seals?)

Fitch & SproutsVocal learning – the ability to imitate complex vocalizations – is a relatively rare ability in the animal kingdom. Humans obviously are excellent vocal learners, and this ability is central to both singing and speech. Surprisingly, vocal learning of complex sounds » Read the rest of this entry «

Vocal Tract Dynamics in Animal Vocalization

August 10th, 2010 Comments Off

Vocal Tract Dynamics in Animal Vocalization

Here are the videos accompanying my paper Fitch, W. T. (2000). “The phonetic potential of nonhuman vocal tracts: Comparative cineradiographic observations of vocalizing animals,” Phonetica 57, 205-218. PDF

The key finding of this work is that animal vocal tracts are highly flexible, dynamically reconfigurable systems. This means that » Read the rest of this entry «

Descent of the Larynx in Deer: The Demise of a “Uniquely Human” Trait

August 10th, 2010 Comments Off

Descent of the Larynx in Deer: The Demise of a “Uniquely Human” Trait

My colleague, mammal vocalization expert David Reby (now at the University of Sussex), and I discovered that male red deer (Cervus elaphus) have an unusual vocal adaptation: a permanently lowered larynx (previously believed to be unique to humans). This is the large lump you can see about midway down his neck. But as this video shows, » Read the rest of this entry «

Rhythm Perception and Production

August 10th, 2010 Comments Off

Rhythm Perception and Production

Rhythm Tree

The perception and production of musical rhythm provides a number of parallels and contrasts with prosody in language. Although both metrical phonology in speech and musical rhythm instantiate a metrical “tree” of more and less accented syllables/notes, musical rhythms are typically made relative to an equally-spaced “beat” (they are isochronous). I have discussed these similarities » Read the rest of this entry «

Musical protolanguage: Darwin’s theory of language evolution revisited

August 5th, 2010 Comments Off

Musical  protolanguage:

Darwin’s theory of language evolution revisited

W. Tecumseh Fitch

University of St Andrews

On the Occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday

Introduction

Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (Darwin, 1859) made little mention of human evolution.  This initial avoidance of human evolution was no oversight, but rather a carefully calculated move: Darwin was well aware of the widespread resistance his theory would meet from scientists, clergymen, and the lay public, and mention of human evolution might have generated insuperable opposition.  But Darwin’s many opponents quickly seized on the human mind » Read the rest of this entry «