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Dog Sheds Light On Language Development


10/19/2005 5:08:42 PM

As far as we know, dogs don't say much beyond "woof" and "arf." But a new German study suggests our canine companions have a better idea what we're saying, thanks to an ability to figure out words through context. If the suspicions of the study authors are correct, dogs and human toddlers share a technique involved in language development. But one critic says that's hardly breaking news and called the findings "overblown." The debate centers on Rico, a 10-year-old Border collie who lives in Germany and has reportedly developed the ability to quickly understand human words. He has an estimated vocabulary of 200 words, mostly referring to toys and balls. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology developed experiments in which they placed a new dog toy in his home among seven toys Rico is familiar with. His owner then asked the dog to find the new toy in a series of rooms by announcing, "Rico! Where is the [new toy's name]?" in German. The results of the study appear in the June 11 issue of Science.

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