April 11, 2021

Dogs understand human language

The dogs have the ability to recognize the same word pronounced by different people, strange to them, according to research conducted by the British University of Sussex. This ability, so far reserved for humans, means a predisposition of dogs to understand language. What was clear so far is that domesticated dogs can understand the orders of their owners, recognize familiar human voices and know how to act before familiar phrases. This requires a training process in the dog, or a long period of coexistence of the animal with its guide until the orders, voices or small phrases are familiar.

The novelty of this study, published last Wednesday in the magazine Biology Letters of the Royal Society lies in the Perception that dogs have of human speech and phonetics. The Sussex University team conducted the experiment with 70 dogs of different breeds, to which they pronounced several syllables, meaningless to them, pronounced by unknown people, specifically 13 men and 14 women.

When observing the reaction of the canids to the different sounds, the researchers verified that the dogs could recognize the pronounced words, that is to say that “they managed to generalize the phonemes regardless of the people who pronounced them”, Explained one of the authors of this work, Professor David Reby.

"Until now it was thought that this ability to categorize words, without prior training, was reserved for humans, ”Said Holly Root-Gutteridge of the University of Sussex. In fact, at work, the researchers point out that “Our results indicate that the ability to spontaneously recognize the same phonemes through different speakers, and identity signs through speech expressions of unknown speakers, is present in dogs domestic and, therefore, it is not an exclusively human trait ”.

The group of dogs was filmed reacting to recordings of men and women who said a variety of words that sounded similarly, such as "had", "hid", "heard" and "heed", words that have no relation to the typical commands used for dogs, which prevented them from reacting as a result of any training at home. Dogs were recorded when they heard different individuals speaking the same word, or the same person who said different words.

According to the study's findings, the dogs were able to recognize the same word when pronounced by different people and They were also able to distinguish between different people by the sound of their voice. Root-Gutteridge explained that the ability to recognize vowel sounds when spoken by different people was previously considered "exclusively human" and that dogs now also share.

"We wanted to test if dogs can recognize the same phonemes, the small sounds that form words, when they are spoken by different people, ignoring differences in accent and pronunciation." In this investigation, the dogs were not given any prizes or treats, nor any caresses before their reaction to the word so as not to influence the results of the study. "The ability to recognize words in the same way when different people speak them is essential for speech," says the doctor. "This research shows that this spontaneous ability is not exclusively human and that dogs share this linguistic talent," judgment.


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