New research reveals that humans and birds use the exact same physical mechanism to make their vocal cords move and thus produce sound. Science has known for over 60 years that this mechanism - called the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory, or in short the MEAD mechanism- drives speech and singing in humans.
"We have now shown that birds use the exact same mechanism to make vocalizations. MEAD might even turn out to be a widespread mechanism in all land-dwelling vertebrates," says lead author Coen Elemans from University of Southern Denmark. According to Elemans the new discovery not only sheds new light on the sophisticated vocal talents of song birds.
‘When birds and humans sing, it sounds completely different, but the very same physical mechanisms called the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory, or in short the MEAD mechanism are at play when a bird sings and a human speaks.’
The discovery is also interesting and useful because it can be paired with the knowledge about another interesting vocal mechanism shared by some birds and humans: The neural mechanisms underlying vocal learning.
Both songbirds and humans are not born with the ability to speak or sing, but must learn their language or song by listening to others, a process called vocal imitation learning or simply vocal learning.
Songbirds are an excellent model to study the human voice and its neurological diseases. So researchers hope to transfer their knowledge about songbird vocal production to research in human vocal production, says Elemans.
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications