Aristotle on stuttering songbirds

Aristotle on stuttering songbirds

If birds can learn to sing, they can stutter.

See more of Aristotle in the news, at the BBC: ‘We Are Not the Only Species to Develop Speech Impediments’.

‘[O]ur feathered friends can teach us a thing or two about ourselves. This idea has a long pedigree. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle argued that birdsong might serve as a useful model for studying human speech.

“In general the birds produce most voice, and with most variety, when they are concerned with mating,” he wrote in Historia Animalium. He went on to note that “a mother nightingale has been observed to give lessons in singing to a young bird, from which spectacle we might obviously infer that the song was… capable of modification and of improvement.”

However, by the end of the 19th century a combination of evolutionary theory and religious doctrine had led scientists to assume that other animals had only the most limited brainpower.

And yet, research published over the past two decades shows that Aristotle was probably right.’

Birds have been in the news recently; see crows crafting tools here. But for those who wish to contest that we are similar to non-rational animals in many ways: is it really ‘a combination of evolutionary theory and religious doctrine’ that is to blame? The Roman Catholic Church certainly doesn’t conceive of animality in this way. Following a paper on animal nature and Aristotle’s political theory I gave at Oxford last March, my esteemed co-presenter and friend (Dr. Thomas Smith at Villanova) sent me this wonderful piece by Bishop Robert Barron, as we were then in Lent.