Sep 17 2012
Last weekend I found a 2009 New York Times science quiz where you can test this skill.
The quiz is a sample from a study conducted by anthropologist Brent Berlin at the University of Georgia. In it he showed that human names for the natural world usually incorporate qualities of the organisms, so we can tell the difference between a bird name and a fish name even if we’ve never heard the language.
The questions in the study, and the quiz, present pairs of bird and fish names in a very foreign language: the Huambisa language of Peru. Brent Berlin pronounces the words in audio clips.
The original study participants correctly guessed the bird name 58% of the time. My hunch is that birders will score higher than that.
I did amazingly well, correctly choosing 9 out of 10 bird names. This photo shows the bird whose name I missed.
Can you tell if a word names a bird? Click here to take the quiz.
(photo of a male purple-throated euphonia by Dario Sanches from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)