LINGUIST List 17.913

Sat Mar 25 2006

Support: Phonetics & Phonology: PhD Student, Leiden U

Editor for this issue: Vanessa Manion <>

Directory         1.    Carel ten Cate, Birdsong; Phonetics & Phonology: PhD Student, Leiden University, Netherlands

Message 1: Birdsong; Phonetics & Phonology: PhD Student, Leiden University, Netherlands
Date: 24-Mar-2006
From: Carel ten Cate <>
Subject: Birdsong; Phonetics & Phonology: PhD Student, Leiden University, Netherlands

Institution/Organization: Leiden University Department: Institute of Biology Level: PhD Specialty Areas: Birdsong; Phonetics; Phonology


Human speech and bird vocalization share several striking similarities which are such that learned birdsong is considered to be the closest animal analogue to language. Both linguists and biologists have suggested that results from one field could yield hypotheses, or even answers to questions, for the other. The following two projects, for which we seek candidates, also aim to contribute to this rapidly growing field of comparative research.

1 - Bird song structure and language syntax: a comparative interdisciplinary approach. One key feature distinguishing human language from other animal vocal communication systems concerns the presence of a rule based syntax underlying linguistic utterances. But are humans really unique in their abilities to detect and use syntactical rules, or do they share some of these properties with other species? This project will analyze the syntactical abilities of a songbird, the zebra finch. It will focus on two questions: 1) Are zebra finches capable of detecting and distinguishing between different types of (experimentally constructed) grammars? 2) What are the species specific grammar rules which guide zebra finch song production and development? The project involves a bioacoustic analysis of song structure in zebra finches, experiments to analyze syntactical capabilities (e.g. habituation/dishabituation tasks, operant tasks involving discrimination learning, etc.) and developmental studies on the role of experience in structuring song syntax.

2 - Bird Speech? On the production and perception of formants in bird vocalisations. An important feature of language are formants, which result from acoustic resonances of the vocal tract, the characteristics of which are rapidly modulated using articulators such as the tongue, lips, and soft palate. Studies of birdsong have hardly addressed the role of formants, although several findings indicate their presence. The proposed project aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of formant mechanisms in birds. It will address the following questions: 1) To what extent do vocal tract resonances cause formant patterns in natural bird vocalizations, and how do vocal tract articulators modulate such patterns? 2) What are the perceptual sensitivities of birds to formant patterns in natural bird vocalizations? 3) Are formant patterns in natural bird vocalizations affected by vocal production learning? The project involves morphological, physiological and bioacoustical analyses and experiments on the vocalization systems of zebra finches and budgerigars, together with experiments on the perception of formant variants.

The projects are based in the research group Behavioural Biology. This is an active, internationally oriented research group with a strong focus on (vocal) communication in animals.

Requirements: MSc degree in Biology, Linguistics (phonetics/phonology) or other relevant discipline; a strong interest in experimental and interdisciplinary studies.

Appointment: The appointment is for a period of 4 years and is expected to lead to completion of a dissertation. The gross monthly salary is €1.877 in the first year and increases progressively each year to €2.407 in the fourth year. Salary and fringe benefits conform to the Collective Employment Agreement for Dutch Universities.

Applications: Written applications (mentioning BehavBiol-PhD-1 and/or -2), including a CV with marks obtained and the names, telephone numbers and email addresses of at least two referees (who have agreed to be contacted) should be submitted to: Leiden University, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, attn. Mr S. Brandsma, Human Resource Department, P.O. Box 9502, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands, or by email: Phone:+31-71-5275040