Carel ten Cate. Ph.D. from the University of Groningen. Professor of Animal Behaviour, Leiden University.
Theme Group Coordinator (1 April – 30 June 2017)
Animal models for human linguistic rule learning: sense or nonsense?
Although the artificial grammar learning (AGL) paradigm originated to examine linguistic rule learning in humans, it is also excellently suited for comparative research in other species. Such research can provide insight in both the uniqueness as well as the possible origin of human rule learning abilities. A range of studies have examined AGL in a variety of mammal and bird species. However, these experiments have been done using different experimental techniques (e.g. habituation-dishabituation designs, various operant tasks), a variety of stimuli (different auditory and visual ones), and have arrived at quite different and sometimes contradicting conclusions about the presence and level of abstraction of various animal rule learning abilities. The aim of my project is to reassess what these studies show about the AG learning abilities of the different species by a critical review the existing literature. It will address one of the core questions of the Theme Group and controversies in recent literature: What, if anything, can studies on animals contribute to understanding the development and evolution of human syntactic abilities? Reviewing the currently available literature will be combined with an assessment of the impact of different methods and stimuli on experimental outcomes and on their suitability to address animal AGL abilities. It should provide insight in how the currently used methods can be improved to design more powerful experiments. The project should result in a thorough review that also identifies the gaps in the current knowledge and the most important questions to be addressed in future studies.
– ten Cate, C. 2014. On the phonetic and syntactic processing abilities of birds: from songs to speech and artificial grammars. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 28:157-164.
– ten Cate, C., Lachlan, R & Zuidema, W. 2013. Analyzing the structure of bird vocalizations and language: finding common ground. In: Birdsong, speech and language (Eds. J.J. Bolhuis & M. Everaert) MIT, pp. 243-260.
– Honing, H., ten Cate, C., Peretz, I. & Trehub, S.E. (Eds.) 2015. Biology, cognition and origins of musicality. Philosophical Transactions B 370, issue 1664.