This is the first time that an animal has been shown to be able to distinguish several languages. An experiment at the University of Eötvös Loránd proved this.
Dogs are able to recognize the difference between habitual speech or tangled meaningless sentences and even have the ability to distinguish familiar and unfamiliar languages, according to a new study from Eötvös Loránd University.
Dogs know how to differentiate languages
Scientists performed brain scans on 18 dogs as they played and exposed them to phrases in Hungarian or Spanish. Two of the dogs involved in the study came from families that spoke exclusively Spanish, while the remaining 16 belonged to Hungarian-speaking families.
“All dogs heard only one of the two languages of their owners, so we were able to compare a very familiar language with a completely unknown one.“Explains lead author Laura V. Cuaya.
Each dog heard an excerpt from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Spanish and Hungarian. In addition, mixed versions of these recordings were played that made no sense and sounded unnatural.
They found that different auditory regions of the dogs’ brains responded when the animals identified familiar or nonsensical language, regardless of the language being spoken. The study represents the first time that scientists have shown that a non-human brain is able to differentiate between two different languages.
“Brain changes from the tens of thousands of years that dogs have lived with humans may have made them better listeners of language, but that’s not necessarily the case. Future studies will have to figure this out.”, explains Attila Andics, leader of the study.
The dogs, in addition to being able to distinguish real speech from scrawled speech, also seemed to be able to distinguish between Hungarian and Spanish.
Another relevant piece of information was that the older the dog was, the better its brain distinguished between familiar and unfamiliar language. “Each language is characterized by a variety of auditory regularities. Our findings suggest that during coexistence with humans, dogs perceive the auditory regularities of the language to which they are exposed.”, comments Raúl Hernández-Pérez, co-author of the work.
“It’s exciting because it reveals that the ability to learn about the regularities of a language is not uniquely human. Still, we don’t know if this ability is the specialty of dogs or general among non-human species.”say the authors.
Reference: “Detecting the naturalness of speech and representing language in the dog’s brain” by Laura V. Cuaya, Raúl Hernández-Pérez, Marianna Boros, Andrea Deme and Attila Andics, December 12, 2021, NeuroImage 2021.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.neuroimagem.2021.118811