Thought just came to me — having recently moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, do animals acquire accents based on their geographic location? For instance as we're all aware, a New Yorker's dialect differ from Bostonians and South Carolinians differ from those who reside in Maine. Accents change from country to country, state to state and even city to city. But do our animals follow suit?
It’s a profound query, don’t you think? And one I’m sure has confounded zoologists and dialectologists worldwide.
The Monkey Switcheroo
The University of Pennsylvania psychologist Bob Seyfarth and biologist Dorothy Cheney approached this question with a unique experiment. They switched a pair of rhesus macaques with a pair of Japanese macaques shortly after birth, so that the Japanese macaque parents raised the rhesus macaque babies, and the rhesus macaque parents raised the Japanese macaque babies.
The intent of this ‘switcheroo’ was to see if the two primates would communicate with different sounds dependent on their geographical upbringing.
Young rhesus macaques, for instance, tend to "gruff" when they play, for example, while Japanese macaques "coo."
However, Seyfarth and Cheney found that foster parenting showed very little effect on the vocal patterns of these two sets of primates. The Japanese macaques continued to "coo" during playtime, even though all of their rhesus playmates were "gruffing."
Could this happen over time? Perhaps. Seyfarth & Cheney believe it would be possible for these relocated monkey to acquire a Southern or Northern accents if and when they lived apart for thousands of years, long enough for their genetic speech patters to evolve.
Say as far as monkeys go, there’s no “y’all in their foreseeable future.
Songbirds, hummingbirds, dolphins and bats, another story . . .
“Songbirds are fantastic learners,” says Ofer Tchernichovski, who studies bird communications at Hunter College in New York. “A nightingale can learn to sing 60 different songs after hearing them only a few times.”
Individual members of the same songbird species will sing different songs based on if they were to live in New York or Beaufort. White-crowned sparrows, whose range covers large portions of the United States, use about seven different sounds in their songs, based on location.
It appears they learn local vocalizations during the first three months of their life by listening to their adults. Ornithologists can immediately identify a white-crowned sparrow’s place of birth from its song, just as you can tell New Yorker from Beaufortonians.
Dolphins, hummingbirds and bats also have a proven ability to learn regional vocalizations, and demonstrate what we would consider regional accents.
What about our Southern Pooches?
Research conducted by the Canine Behavior Center in Cumbria, England, says that this is TRUE! Dogs do indeed have regional accents like their owners.
Experiment were performed where dog owners recorded messages of their own voices, as well as their furry friends barking and growling. The recordings were then studied by a panel of experts to discern differences.
The research team concluded that while these canines didn’t necessarily develop their own regional dialect, they DID mimic the accent of their owner. Dogs living in a home with an owner who had a strong Southern accent were most likely to mimic their owners tone. They also determined that “pampered pups could even develop a ‘posh’ sound to their barks.”
So Beaufortonians, the next time you speak to your pooch, don’t forget to “bless their heart” and compliment them about being as “pretty as peach.” And “if the creek don’t rise” and they aren’t “too big for their britches,” make sure you're givin’ ‘em love “til the cows come home.” Y’hear, Y’all?
Primary Source: Animals with Accents