Animal models

From: Ed Feuer
Date: 10/6/99
Time: 2:11:22 AM
Remote Name:


I am sure this is serious research in a rather novel area. But certain questions arise such as: Do find that the
zebra finchs' multiple song syllable repititions grow longer as difficulties arise? Do the young zebra finches
start to avoid those song syllables on which they have problems? Do they begin to substitute other song
syllables in their place? Do they fly off to sing in isolation because the other zebra finches display hostility to
their song syllable repititions? Do the syllable repeaters only mate with other song syllable repeaters because
their songs are not desirable to the non-syllable repeaters? If the answers are no, what does it tell us about the
efficacy of this animal model . . . or any animal model?  Ed Feuer

Re: Animal models

Date: 10/6/99
Time: 4:56:23 PM
Remote Name:


An animal model for stuttering is not so far fetched, if you believe stuttering is not the result of external
environmental factors. If one studies brain development it can be seen that except for the neocortex human and
animal development are very similiar. Complexity is the primary difference between the brains of humans and
animals. A good text showing this is Biological Psychology by James W. Kalat. I think question to answer is
whether or not the human behavior of stuttering arises from structures in the CNS which are unique to humans
or are shared by both humans and animals. The question as to whether the zebra finch displaying stuttering
like behaviors experiences depression, isolation and other emotional traumas because of how normal zebra
finches treat the stuttering zebra finches is irrevalent. The emotional abuse experienced by human stutters is the
result of ignorance and stupidity, however the emotional trauma is the result of and not the cause of stuttering.
So questions about mating and social standing of zebra finches is not applicable because they would be result
of and not the cause of the stuttering like behaviors seen in the zebra finch. As to the questions concerning
avoidance and substitutions well I think this is self-explainatory. If the bird is substituting or avoiding
syllables then the song is totally different, and would have been recognized as a seperate song. I hope this
helps with concerns about efficacy of this and other animal models used in stuttering research. 

Lee Thorne East Carolina University 

Re: Animal models

From: David Rosenfield
Date: 10/8/99
Time: 5:30:01 PM
Remote Name:


Your questions are appropriate. At the present time, we have not addressed them. If the model is appropriate,
and I believe that it is in terms of modeling the part-word repetitions, it will be even more robust if we can
show tht that which causes problems for the stutterers also causes problems for the birds. 

A model is just that--a model. It is not isomorphic with the clinical problem. rather, it should provide
information on a particular level of analysis. 

We do not know whether the birds are emotionally upset at the abormal output. Further, we do not know
whether the females will reject/like them more if they stutter. What we do know, at this level of analysis, is
that the brain of the bird programs "abnormal" repetitions in the output, just as in the stutterer. 

The questions you raise are valid for models from multiple sclerosis to parkinsons disease. what researchers
need to do is ask at what level the disease is modeled, and then develop meaningful hypothesis from there. 

Thanks for contacting me. If you have any more questions, I am happy to communicate more. 

David B Rosenfield MD

Animal model

From: Ed Feuer
Date: 10/7/99
Time: 1:00:56 AM
Remote Name:


With all due respect to zebra finches, I would hope that one day scientists will create a proper computer model
of the human speech system. That way, researchers can experiment with variables that might cause the core
"event" in stuttering.  Ed Feuer

Re: Animal model

From: David B Rosenfield MD
Date: 10/8/99
Time: 5:32:39 PM
Remote Name:


Right again! If the researchers/modelers in Artificial Intelligence can program juman speech, we might be able
to address these variables. One of the problems with the AI speech is that it is "feed forward" and not yet
dependent on auditory feedback. 

Isit not sad that funding prohibits exploration of these ideas? 


animal models

From: Pete Amberg
Date: 10/10/99
Time: 11:22:24 PM
Remote Name:


Intersting material and research. One question: I am a little baffled on how you provide delayed auditory
feedback to finches? 

Thanks for providing info on a new topic to me in the field of communication disorders. Has much other
research been done using animal models? 


Healthscout article

From: Judy Kuster
Date: 10/14/99
Time: 8:27:23 AM
Remote Name:


Healthscout (an online health news service) has a short article about your work with zebra finches, David.
Congratulations! For others who wish to read it, the article is online on the Healthscout website
. Type in the keyword "stuttering" on the search function on that site. The
article is by Nancy Melville and is entitled "Stuttering Bird's Song Is Music to Ears of Researchers: Zebra
finch could reveal why humans have speech problem."

Re: Healthscout article

From: David Rosenfield 
Date: 10/18/99
Time: 1:38:35 PM
Remote Name:


Judy, Thanks for your help. Sincerely, 

David Rosenfield

Re: Healthscout article

From: Woody Starkweather
Date: 10/21/99
Time: 4:07:04 PM
Remote Name:


Analogues, as we all know, are a dangerous way to think. And this analogue seems particularly dangerous.
The reason is that birdsong and human speech are totally different behaviors in the function they perform.
Birdsong is a territorial display, equivalent perhaps to a young man purchasing a Jaguar and putting MD plates
on it, while speech is designed to convey complex information, allow for human emotional bonding, and
organize the life of the species. Although Marler's work did show some interesting similarities between the
development of birdsong and the developmetn of human speech, he described it as an instance of convergence,
that is, where a ' similar pattern evolves in very different species. There are many examples of similar
convergence in animal communication, so it should not be surprising to find them here. 

Zebra finches acquire these "primitve" version of their song as a result of being deprived from the stimulation
of hearing their parents sing because the chicks were bilaterally deafened at birth. So the types of song that are
described are not really analogous to a problem like stuttering, which develops after language development is
well under way, and is superimposed on a normal language system. They are, instead, analogous to the
absence of language that Itard described for children who are raised without being exposed to language. These
children do not talk and, for the most part, cannot be taught to talk. In other words, the types of abnormalities
that the authors describe as analogous to stuttering are in fact analogous to far more complete abnormalities in
human language. 

Finally, it is wise to remember that human beings produce speech with a mechanism that is qualitatively very
different from that used by birds in singing. Birds have a syrinx, which is somewhat like a larynx, but they
have two of them, one on each side in the bronchial tubes. The musculature is such that each syrinx shares the
centrally located muscles for manipulating the pitch, loudness, and onset/offset functions. Consequently, birds
are able to produce complexities of VOICE that are far more adept than anything we can do, and to our ears
those complexities, given the speed at which they occur, sound like articulatory sounds, but they are only
changes in tone. This can easily be appreciated by playing the birdsong at a slower speed than it was recorded
at, and the difference becomes instantly clear. The human system, on the other hand, involves upper airway
articulations that stop and start the flow of air, introduce additional sounds, and modulate resonance. Birds
have none of that. 

So, given that they have a very different system used for a very different purpose, the analogy falls on
extremely shaky grounds. 

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the acquisition of birdsong, although it has the convergent similarities that
Marler noticed, is really quite different in most of its aspects. Chomskian acquisition devices granted, there is
substantial learning of langauge, and in the later stages, language is actively taught to human children, and the
whole process takes, as we know, a considerable investment of time, even though it may seem shorter than we
would have expected. 

Woody Starkweather

Re: Healthscout article

From: David B Rosenfield MD
Date: 10/21/99
Time: 5:50:53 PM
Remote Name:


Dear Dr. Starkweather; Thanks for contacting me. Let me address several points. 

FIrst, these birds were normally raised and were not deafened. Approximately 7% of the normally raised birds
have iterative output. 

Second, we are addressing brain-orchestrated motor conrol of a sound source, which certainly has to have
some correlation with a brain-orchestrated control of a sound source in other animals--i.e., humans. We well
recognize (ala Chomsky, with whom I did a Fellowship), that humans have language and birds have
communication. Regardless, we are addressing the brain control (neuromotor) of the sound output of the
species, neither language nor communication (at this point). 

Thirdly, there are multiple correlates between zebra finch song output and human speech-motor production:
they are learned during critical periods of time, they depend upon particular brain networks, they depend upon
appropriate auditory feedback, and, most important, they are spectrally as well a temporally complex. 

Lastly, the major issue is, what is a model. A model need not be isomorphic with the process being studied.
Were that the case, we would have no models of multiple sclerosis, parkinsons, diseas, or ALzheimer's
Disease. Indeed, we would have few animal models of anything, since those diseases do not exist as such in
animals. However, the estabilshment of "models" of those diseases has resulted in multiple salient therapies. 

We can demonstrate that zebra finch birdsong, in some birds, contains iterative sequencies that are similar to
the part-word repetitions of stuttering. What we can not is aemotional angst. 

I hope that we can spend more time discussing this at the IFa. 

Thanks for contacting me/us. 


Re: Healthscout article

From: Woody Starkweather
Date: 10/22/99
Time: 4:05:28 PM
Remote Name:


Most of the points you mention as justifying a comparison between birdsong and human speech production are
a product of genetic convergence, that is, it is remarkable that they occur at all, but they most likely do not
mean that the two systems are comparable. 

But the point of comparison that you say is most important, that birdsong is spectrally complex, as speech is,
is quite wrong. Birdsong is spectrally simple. It is simply a tone, varied rapidly in its temporal characteristic,
so rapidly that it sounds as though it is spectrally complex, but in fact it is nearly a pure tone. There are of
course some harmonics, attributable to the air spaces in the bird's upper airway, and there is even some
variation in these harmonics during the song, but the harmonics vary ONLY in correlation with the vocal tone
and are a byproduct of its production. There is absolutely no harmonic, or spectral variation in birdsong that
contributes to the song, in the way that human articulation does. In other words, the harmonic variations that
occur in birdsong are not part of the signal-production as they are in humans, so one would have to assume
that the neural organization of motor control is also vastly different in the two species. And of course, as I
pointed out in my previous post, the function of birdsong is also vastly different, and the physiology of
birdsong production is vastly different. I can't see that there is any real basis of comparison at all, only the
coincidental convergences that Marler pointed out, which, by the way are present in one form or another in the
communicative behavior of most of the more complex species. I could cite many examples of this. It is
interesting, but not a basis for comparison. 

Also, I noticed in my rereading of your article that you began with the premise that stuttering was not learned
behavior. I had to laugh. That is a little like saying, if you were a geologist, that you would begin with the
premise that the earth was not round but instead resembled a yellow cupcake. Given that premise, it would
make sense to argue that the ice cap was really made of lemon icing. 

The premise is wildly out of touch with the literature and observations of speech patholgists and speech
scientists over the past five decades. It is certainly true that not all of the phenomenon we call stuttering is
attributable to learning -- the onset of it and the sex ratio are examples -- but most of what we call stuttering
follows all the rest of the characteristics of learned behavior. The frustration effect, generalization,
discrimination, and, if stuttering is influenced by avoidance condition, as seems most likely, then it also
follows the laws of con- sequence, which are paradoxical for this form of learning. Situational specificity,
word and sound fears, the drifting of word and sound fears over time, the developmental changes in stuttering
which determine the form it takes in adults, the individual variability, and the increase in that variability over
time in children. These and many other observations about stuttering suggest that it is primarily learned
behavior, influenced of course, as all learned behavior is, by the shaping forces of epigenetic rules. 

I think you should give up the idea that iterative birdsong is a model for stuttering. Why not use cats? They
produce iterative behavior, and it is under stimulus control too. Or chimpanzees who produce many iterative
sounds under certain circumstances and have the advantage of being genetically similar to humans, unlike

Sorry, I can't buy it. 

Woody Starkweather 

stuttering-like behaviors in other animals

From: Judy Kuster
Date: 10/17/99
Time: 1:13:33 PM
Remote Name:


I've been looking through some interesting clips I've saved over the years about other animals that display
what might be interpreted as stuttering-like symptoms. I'm copying some of the information below for your
information, but wonder if other animals besides finches have actually been studied? 

1. I once corresponded with a friend about what she considered stuttering-like symptoms in a dog. 

2. From the Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, April 14, 1997 - excerpts The suspected presence of a rare and
threatened amphibian, the stuttering frog, is delaying a bid to expand an environmentally controversial new
goldmine project in far-north NSW. The Timbarra Plateau, south-east of Tenterfield, is the northernmost
recorded habitat of the mysterious Mixophyes balbus, found in small, isolated pockets along the eastern
escarpment of the Great Dividing Range in NSW. The frog, which sounds like a stuttering human, is the latest
in a series of hurdles faced by Queensland-based Ross Mining Ltd, the would-be developers of the $15
million-plus, 50,000 ounce-a-year Timbarra goldmine. 

3. From the archives of stutt-l, 14-MAR-1997 . . . I had to take a few moments out and tell you about an
interesting phenomenon I'm witnessing with my African Grey Congo parrot, Lucky. Lucky imitates things I
say frequently. If it's something I really want him to say, I'll repeat it a lot and he knows I want him to say it.
I've recently taught him to crow like a rooster and say Good Morning. The "crow" is a little hard for him to
produce (his whole little body shakes and sometimes he can only get out a few er-er-er's). If he's on a roll
(going through his whole repertoire), it becomes really hard for him to do it. One of the other things I'm
teaching him is "Botta-boom, botta bing." (I know - no comments please). He gets the botta-boom out really
well, but can't say the botta bing. Today and a little bit yesterday, when he was speaking, I heard him stutter
on botta-boom (botta, botta, botta, botta really fast, before he could say botta-boom). It seems to only happen
when he's stressing his system (going through his whole repertoire of speech which I estimate to be around
75-100 phrases, words and sounds). 

4. I'm serious about my question about stuttering-like symptoms seen in animals besides the Zebra finches
you are studying, but on the lighter side Woody Starkeweather shared what he said may be an apocryphal
story on Stutt-L (May 30, 1997). It seems that Van Riper gave a parrot to Wendell Johnson that he had trained
to say "To H___ with Iowa." Johnson trained the parrot to stutter and sent it back. 

Judy Kuster

Re: stuttering-like behaviors in other animals

From: Suzanne Danforth
Date: 10/19/99
Time: 8:47:44 PM
Remote Name:


I have to admit, I furrowed my brow on reading the title of this poster session. But your name attached to it,
Dr. Rosenfield, instantly legitimized what might otherwise be, well, a strange idea. Then I read this posting
from Dr. Kuster and my curiosity was further piqued - tell us more about the dog! I can't comment further or
more in depth about the poster session just yet; it is the kind of idea that, for me, requires lots of turning over
in my head.

Re: stuttering-like behaviors in other animals

Date: 10/19/99
Time: 10:45:33 PM
Remote Name:


Hi. I'm the one who described the dog to Judy. He was a large, rather poorly trained black Lab. Instead of
barking "woof", his bark sounded something like "bwbwbwbwbwoof!" and was accompanied by severe lip
tremors. Of course I can't really swear that he was stuttering, but it certainly sounded like it. Amusingly,
sadly, most people who heard his bark for the first time laughed out loud. 


Re: stuttering-like behaviors in other animals

From: David Rosenfield
Date: 10/22/99
Time: 12:37:59 PM
Remote Name:


Teaching an animal to stutter, be that animal a crow or parrot or what have you, is different from observing
stuttering behaviors in the animal's own, ntural, communcation system. What we have described, is an animal
(zebra finch) that produces, within its own natural song, dysfulencies. On some level, this occurence, is
brain-mandated. we are examining the molecular biological substrata behind this, as well as genetic

Zebra finch birdsong, similar to human speech, is learned during critical periods of development, depends on
auditory feedback, relates to particular networks within the brain for each species, and is temoporally as well
as spectrally complex. Thus, there is an overlap. 

This setting provides a modelof brain-controlled sound output. 

David Rosenfield