Who's Got Rhythm?

Science  14 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5464, pp. 280-281
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5464.280

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Sophisticated processing of language is considered a unique characteristic of humans. However, as Werker and Vouloumanos discuss in a Perspective, nonhuman primates also have the ability to distinguish natural rhythmicities in speech. They explain new findings ( Ramus et al.) demonstrating that both cotton-top tamarin monkeys and human newborn infants can distinguish between two languages (Dutch and Japanese) when the languages are played forward but not backward. The remarkable finding that tamarins may share this fundamental speech processing capability with human newborns raises questions about the uniqueness of human language.