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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Primate Perception

WASHINGTON -- The ability to use language has long been a trait that was believed to have set humans apart from other living creatures. But it's been unclear exactly what abilities humans possess that animals do not.

A team of American and French researchers conducted a series of experiments in which 20 sentences in Japanese and 20 sentences in Dutch were read backward and forward to 32 newborn human babies and to 13 cotton-top tamarin monkeys.

By carefully monitoring their reactions, the researchers concluded that both had the ability to tell those languages apart even though neither actually understood the words.

The "results point to similarities between the tamarin and human perceptual systems, and force us to consider that this type of speech processing - even though immediately apparent in human neonates - might not be unique to humans," wrote Janet Werker and Athena Vouloumanos of the University of British Columbia in an article accompanying the research in the April 14 issue of Science.