bird song/conversation analysis

Arie Verhagen Arie.Verhagen at
Fri Jun 18 13:10:58 UTC 2010

Dear Shannon,

There's a lot out there, mostly based on the seminal Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson paper "A 
simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation" in Language 50 (1974), 
pp.669-735. That paper itself is still obligatory reading for this type of question, I would say.. A 
potentially interesting recent study is a dissertation by Mike Huiskes ("The role of the clause for 
turn-taking in Dutch conversations", downloadable at, arguing that the precision of 
turn-taking (in Dutch) depends on the combination of three types of completeness: intonational, 
syntactic (i.e. clausal), and pragmatic. The latter may (? ;D) be absent in bird song, but 
phonology and syntax are there, and there is recent (linguistically informed) research on 
establishing phonological and syntactic structure in birdsong (which you need when looking for 
'completeness') by R.F. Lachlan et al. (see "Are There Species-Universal Categories in Bird Song 
Phonology and Syntax?", Journal of Comparative Psychology (2010) 124, pp.92-108). Lachlan 
also has developed software for this type of analysis (he is at Duke University). 

Good luck,
Leiden University Centre for Linguistics
P.N. van Eyckhof 1
2311 BV  Leiden

Message from s.t. bischoff < at>
18 Jun 2010, 7:09
Subject: [FUNKNET] bird song/conversation analysis

> Hi all,
> A biologist colleague of mine who works on animal communication (bird songs)
> is interested in learning a bit about conversation analysis (far outside my
> area of expertise). He hopes that he might be able to get some ideas from
> linguists how best to analyze certain bird song behaviour. Any references,
> comments, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Below is a brief
> description of what he is looking at.
> Thanks,
> Shannon
> Behavioral ecologist seeks cross-disciplinary advice:
> I am seeking input from Linguists to help develop a review of answering rules
> in song birds. Briefly, individuals of many songbird species sing repertoires
> of discrete learned song types.  When two birds living on neighboring
> territories interact vocally (i.e., "countersing"), the song type that one
> bird sings can affect the other bird´s choice of song type. In the simplest
> case, the second bird might match the first bird's song type. A similar
> phenomenon occurs when mated pairs of certain species sing rapidly alternating
> phrases, resulting in so-called "duet" songs.The type of phrase uttered by one
> partner affects the other partner´s subsequent choice of phrase. Thus during
> both contersinging and duet singing, birds abide by "answering rules". Of
> course, these interactions have some properties in common with conversations,
> and answering rules bear a passing resemblance to adjacency pairs. I would be
> grateful if list members could suggest resources (concepts, hypotheses, or
> methods) from Linguistics that might be relevant to this project.  I am
> particularly interested in hearing from students of conversational analysis.
> Thank you!
> -- David Logue, Assistant Professor  / Department of Biology, University of
> Puerto Rico

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