Feeds

Scientists train Japanese-speaking rats

Well, sort of...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Neuroscientists at the University of Barcelona have discovered that rats can - with a little encouragement - tell the difference between Dutch and Japanese. Sadly, this newfound linguistic ability does not extend to actually understanding what is being said, thereby thwarting hopes that rat-brain-controlled stealth attack drones could be guided onto al-Qaeda strongholds by the dulcet tones of Donald Rumsfeld.

Rather, the said rodents are able to differentiate the rhythmic properties of the two languages - a process which the boffins believe may give clues as to how human babies develop language skills, according to a New Scientist report.

A team led by neuroscientist Juan Toro trained the rats to "recognise either Dutch or Japanese - by pressing a lever in response to a short sentence - and then exposed them to sentences they had not heard before, in both languages". They discovered that while their guinea rats could tell the difference between the languages "as long as the sentences were computer-synthesised or both languages were spoken by the same person", playing the sentences backwards or having them spoken by different people threw the poor animals completely.

Toro says this is because exposing rats to a different voice makes the job "too difficult" for the little blighters. As regards playing sentences backwards, Toro notes that this also throws human infants and monkeys - as previous experiments proved. Toro admitted he didn't know "what exactly is lost by playing speech backwards". We make no comment.

The bottom line is that rats are not apparently developing the ability to speak. Toro reckons they probably have "some mechanism suited for auditory processing in general" which they evolved "to sense sound patterns that might warn of predators approaching or changing predator behaviour". Human speech may too have begun as a similar evolutionary device, Toro concludes. ®

Related stories

The rise of the rat-brain controlled android
Peruvians develop super-tasty guinea pig
Killer hamster ices owner
Aussie boffins probe lesbian cows
Sheep pine for absent friends: official
Sheep like happy, smiley people: official
Inside the mind of the gay sheep

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.