African penguins, whose honking resemble that of a ‘Donkey’s bray’ has been fortunately or unfortunately nicknamed as ‘Jackass Penguins’. Laugh at them if you like, but a new study suggests that their ‘Jackass’ language actually follows the same basic linguistic rules as humans.
In a study published, researchers recorded nearly 600 vocalizations from 28 adult male penguins living in Italian zoos. The scientists knew from prior research that African penguins honk using three distinct types of sound, reminiscent of human syllables, when greeting one another, mating, or defending territory. But the researchers wanted to know whether those “syllables” follow two common linguistic rules ‘The Zipf’s law of brevity’ and ‘The Menzerath-Altmann law’ which states that shortest words tends to be the most common, and longest phrases were made up of the shortest syllables.
Prior studies have shown that non-human primates obey both these rules when they communicate with each other. But now the researchers has proved that the songs of the male jackass penguin follow both Zipf’s and Menzerath-Altmann’s laws. This jackass study provided the first non primate evidence that these common linguistic patterns extend into the animal kingdom too.