Humans, but no other animal, make meaningful use of spoken language. What is unclear, however, is whether this capacity depends on a unique constellation of perceptual and neurobiological mechanisms, or whether a subset of such mechanisms are shared with other organisms. To explore this problem, we conducted parallel experiments on human newborns and cotton-top tamarin monkeys to assess their ability to discriminate unfamiliar languages. Using a habituation-dishabituation procedure, we show that human newborns and tamarins can discriminate sentences from Dutch and Japanese, but not if the sentences are played backwards. Moreover, the cues for discrimination are not present in backward speech. This suggests that the human newborns' tuning to certain properties of speech relies on general processes of the primate auditory system
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