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Study Finds Goats Adjust Their 'Accents' Based On Social Surroundings

A goat kid.
Queen Mary University of London
A goat kid.

Surely you've noticed that when people move from place to place and stay for a while, they tend to pick up the local accent. We could use Madonna as an example, but we're pretty sure her British accent started before she jumped the pond.

Anyway, in a new study published in the journal Animal Behaviour, two scientists found young pygmy goats, which are known as kids, do something similar.

Dr. Elodie Briefer and Dr. Alan McElligott from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the University of London found that when kids joined social groups, their calls started sounding similar.

The BBC reports that this means goats now join humans, bats and whales as the mammals known to adjust their vocal sound in response to a social environment. The BBC adds:

"In order to test the goats' vocal repertoire [scientists] recorded calls at one-week-old and again when they were aged five weeks.

"'Five weeks corresponds to the time when, in the wild, they join their social group after spending some time hidden in vegetation to avoid predators,' Dr Briefer explained.

"'We found that genetically-related kids produced similar calls... but the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were also similar to each other, and became more similar as the kids grew older.'"

"'This suggests that goat kids modify their calls according to their social surroundings, developing similar 'accents'.'"

The scientists also found that kids that were raised apart, sounded different over time, Scientific American reports. The scientists add that these different accents may be useful in identifying strangers. Click over to SA's website and they have short snippets of what the accents sounded like.

In their press release, the scientists report that these findings could help us understand how humans came to speak.

"The existence of vocal plasticity in mammals such as goats reveals a possible early pathway in the evolution of vocal communication," they explain.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.