Penguins may not be able to fly, but could they be joining some of their bird cousins in talking? Well, sort of. What’s fascinating for us about this study of penguins’ language patterns is how they align with our own. Mapping primates and other creatures behaviour helps us put our own in context and learn more.
Penguin vocal patterns follow the same principles as human linguistics, new research suggests.
The animals follow two main laws – that more frequently used words are briefer (Zipf’s law of brevity), and longer words are composed of extra but briefer syllables (Menzerath-Altmann law). Scientists say this is the first instance of these laws observed outside primates, suggesting an ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations.
Information compression is a general principle of human language: the most frequently-used language tends to be compressed, so that information can be shared quickly.
ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations
According to the study published in the Biology Letters journal, display songs of the endangered African penguin conform to two linguistic laws, known as Zipf’s law of brevity and the Menzerath-Altmann law.
The research was led by the Equipe de Neuro-Ethologie Sensorielle of the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne. Dr Livio Favaro, of the University of Torino, and colleagues say this is the first evidence of a non-primate species following these linguistic rules.