11 June 2004

Old dog learns new tricks

A German border collie has surprised scientists with his 200-word vocabulary and uncanny knack for learning new words, shedding light on the evolution of language.

Nine-year-old Rico knows the names of each toy in his hundred-strong collection and can retrieve items called out to him with over 90% accuracy. He can also learn and remember the names of unfamiliar toys after just one encounter, putting him on a par with a three-year-old child.

The dog's magnificent memory shows that canines share some aspects of the language skill that evolved in humans, says Julia Fischer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who reports her findings in Science 1.

But canines' ability to comprehend speech can only have manifested itself after they were domesticated, some 15,000 years ago, and human speech is thought to have evolved 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. So Fischer's findings suggest that the ability to match novel words and items has evolved twice, first in humans and then in dogs.

Everbody else and their dog (sorry) is posting this so I might as well. It's the original extract from Nature, not the subedited version most people are citing so at least I can claim not to be barking up the wrong tree (sorry). If I can dig one up I might post an image of the Best Dog in the Southwest Pacific. I will of course disregard bitchy (sorry) comments by anyone else from the region who claims their miserable fleabag is top dog (sorry).

As INTELLDUMP blogs unfortunately this is not the only dog story today.

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