Penguins talk to each other like humans do - according to scientists

Penguin vocal patterns follow the same principles as human linguistics, a new study has suggested.

Researchers at the University of Torino have found that the animals obey some of the same rules of linguistics as humans.

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Penguins talk to each other like humans do

In the human language, most frequently used words are short and it turns out this also applies to penguins.

Scientists at the University say this is the first instance of these laws being observed outside primates, suggesting an ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations.

The team recorded 590 breeding calls known as "ecstatic display songs." They were sung by single birds during the mating season, from 28 adult African penguins in three different colonies in Italian zoos.

The songs' sounds are similar to the bray of a donkey, according to the paper which was published on Tuesday, and are responsible for the flightless birds' nickname - the jackass penguin.

What does the study say?

The study found that the vocal sequences contained three distinct syllables of different length, with the "words" used most often the shortest, while the longest sequences were made up of shorter syllables.

According to the study published in the Biology Letters journal, display songs of the endangered African penguin conform to two linguistic laws, known as Zipf’s law of brevity and the Menzerath-Altmann law.

The research was led by the Equipe de Neuro-Ethologie Sensorielle of the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne.

The authors said, “Our results suggest for the first time that information compression can coexist with other sources of selection in a non-primate species with a small and relatively fixed vocal system.”