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Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs

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Science  30 Aug 2016:
aaf3777
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3777

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  • On the nature of speech processing capacities in the dog brain
    • Attila Andics
    • Other Contributors:
      • Anna Gábor
      • Márta Gácsi
      • Tamás Faragó
      • Dóra Szabó
      • Ádám Miklósi

    Hauser et al. [1] commented on several aspects of our study [2], criticizing the experimental design and questioning the lexical and intonational nature of the reported effects. In response to these comments, we would like to clarify what we do and do not claim.

    The use of a single stimulus voice, with a variety of utterances per condition, can be a fair starting point to study the processing of lexical and intonational markedness in speech. In our study, dogs showed a laterality effect for meaningful (lexically marked) but not for meaningless (lexically unmarked) sound sequences from a selected familiar adult woman. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the observed left bias does not generalize to other speakers, but the effect is still based on lexical markedness and not on acoustics.

    Familiarity could not account for the reported left bias. We did use a familiarity control on the utterance level: praise words in praising intonation (and conjunction words in neutral intonation) were familiar utterances, while praise words in neutral intonation and conjunction words in praising intonation were unfamiliar. Praise words elicited left bias in either intonation, but conjunction words did not: this pattern is not explained by familiarity. We indeed found no left bias for either meaningless speech or, in a previous study [3], for nonspeech human sounds or dog sounds: all this supports our interpretation suggesting that the laterality effect reflects lexical mar...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Dogs process associations, not lexical or prosodic information
    • Marc D. Hauser, Biologist, Risk-Eraser, LLC
    • Other Contributors:
      • Robert C Berwick, Computer scientist, MIT
      • Jeffrey Watumull, Computational linguist, Oceanit
      • Noam Chomsky, Linguist, MIT

    Dogs process associations, not lexical or prosodic information

    Marc D. Hauser, Robert C. Berwick, Jeffrey Watumull and Noam Chomsky

    Andics et al (1) use fMRI data to claim that dogs perform lexical and prosodic computations, concluding that these capacities evolved in the absence of language. The evidence does not support these conclusions.

    First, the experimental design is flawed. With stimuli restricted to a single, familiar woman, we cannot generalize to all human speech. Logically, we cannot know whether the observed processing resulted from acoustic familiarity, one person, a woman, or an adult. The study also failed to include familiarity controls (used in several other studies, e.g., 2), most obviously familiar dog vocalizations. Notably, these same authors failed to find a laterality effect when both dog and human sounds were presented (3).

    Second, even if they had presented a variety of voices, and eliminated familiarity by demonstrating a difference with dog vocalizations, there would still be no evidence for human language lexical or prosodic processing. Imaging and neuropsychological data (4) reveal that when humans process language, lexical and prosodic aspects go beyond sound structure or sounds with functional associations. For a dog, human words are at best associations to functional contexts or objects, and intonation merely conveys emotion. In contrast, for even young infants, lexical items are fixed by syntactical roles (e.g....

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    Competing Interests: None declared.