Sep 17 2012

Does This Word Sound Like A Bird?

Published by at 6:20 am under Quiz


Can you recognize the name of a bird in a language you’ve never heard?

Last weekend I found a 2009 New York Times science quiz where you can test this skill.

The quiz is a sample from a study conducted by anthropologist Brent Berlin at the University of Georgia.  In it he showed that human names for the natural world usually incorporate qualities of the organisms, so we can tell the difference between a bird name and a fish name even if we’ve never heard the language.

The questions in the study, and the quiz, present pairs of bird and fish names in a very foreign language: the Huambisa language of Peru. Brent Berlin pronounces the words in audio clips.

The original study participants correctly guessed the bird name 58% of the time.  My hunch is that birders will score higher than that.

I did amazingly well, correctly choosing 9 out of 10 bird names.  This photo shows the bird whose name I missed.

Can you tell if a word names a bird?  Click here to take the quiz.

(photo of a male purple-throated euphonia by Dario Sanches from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Does This Word Sound Like A Bird?”

  1. Robinon 17 Sep 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Wow! I got a 10 out of 10, and I certainly have never been exposed to this language! COOL :D

  2. Mary Ann Pikeon 17 Sep 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I tried it and also got 9 out of 10. It’s probably because the names of birds often sound like their calls, and we can recognize that in the name.

  3. Jill Dunmireon 17 Sep 2012 at 5:40 pm

    10 of 10!

  4. Shawn Collinson 17 Sep 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Awesome quiz, I got 10 out of 10! :-)

  5. kcon 19 Sep 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I got 10 for 10 too. Cool. I spent very little time on each. Just went with my hunch each time. I definitely went by sound/call/song possibilties.

  6. kcon 19 Sep 2012 at 4:54 pm

    ps…Didn’t actually listen. Just sounded the names out in my head.

  7. kcon 19 Sep 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Kate….Do you have a link to the actual article?

  8. Kate St. Johnon 19 Sep 2012 at 5:00 pm

    I’m not sure if there was an original article or merely a quiz. Here’s the Wiki on Brent Berlin, the anthropologist who invented the quiz. There are links in the notes at the bottom:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_Berlin

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