The way dogs respond to language and speech could depend on their age and breed, the study found (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The way dogs respond to language and speech could depend on their age and breed, the study found (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

AP

Laura V. Cuya moved from Mexico to Hungary with her dog, Kun-Kun, to join the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University.

It wasn’t long before a question sprouted in her mind.

Could her dog understand the difference between Spanish, the language she used with him in Mexico, and Hungarian, the common tongue of their new home? Her question was at the center of a study from the Eötvös Loránd University, published in NeuroImage Journal in late December 2021.

The discovery was the first of its kind.

According to the researchers, it showed for the first time that a non-human brain could distinguish between two different languages.

The study was conducted by training 18 adult pet dogs to lay still in an MRI scanner in order to let researchers monitor their brain activity while playing recordings of “The Little Prince.”. One recording was in Spanish, the other in Hungarian, read by two different women with similar speaking tones and vocal characteristics, according to the study. The researchers then examined how dogs responded to each language.

Similar studies with language have been performed on infants, which the study noted have already been identified as able to understand the difference between two languages.

The researchers also played dogs gibberish in each language in order to analyze how dogs handled speech detection, and found that dogs did react differently from scrambled speech to natural speech in their auditory processing regions of the brain.

In the end, the study concluded that it found evidence of “distinct brain activity” patterns when a non-human species encounters a familiar and unfamiliar language. Furthermore, the brain activity indicated that dogs respond to speech in a different way than scrambled speech in the same language, which demonstrates a dog’s general capacity for speech detection in a language, according to the study.

One key finding was that while dogs seemed to differentiate between the languages and scrambled speech, the researchers suggested that the speech detection might be due to what a dog hears as a natural versus unnatural, rather than a process in the brain that identifies speech.

According to the researchers, however, dogs had stronger brain activity when they heard scrambled speech, which may suggest that they are working harder to identify the unnatural noises.

The study also found that older dogs responded with a greater difference to the two different languages, which may be a result of learning language regularities over time, researchers said. Dogs with longer heads seemed to have greater sensitivity to natural speech, signifying there may be a connection to dog breeds and language comprehension.

Limitations of the study included a Human Response Facility, which many auditory imaging studies of dogs use. It also used a short Echo Time, which may have reduced the sensitivity of the study.

“It is exciting, because it reveals that the capacity to learn about the regularities of a language is not uniquely human. Still, we do not know whether this capacity is dogs’ specialty, or general among non-human species,” Attila Andics, senior author of the study said. “Indeed, it is possible that the brain changes from the tens of thousand years that dogs have been living with humans have made them better language listeners, but this is not necessarily the case. Future studies will have to find this out.”

Alison Cutler is a National Real Time Reporter for the Southeast at McClatchy. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and previously worked for The News Leader in Staunton, VA, a branch of USAToday.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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