Is your dog bilingual? New study suggests their brains can tell languages apart When brain researcher Laura Cuaya moved from Mexico to Hungary, she wanted to know if her two dogs would recognize the change in language. So she devised an experiment.

Is your dog bilingual? A new study suggests their brains can tell languages apart

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When Laura Cuaya moved from Mexico to Hungary to pursue her postdoc, she was expecting some differences.

LAURA CUAYA: Obviously, here, people in Budapest talk Hungarian.


But as she strolled through Budapest with her two border collies Kun Kun and Odin, she noticed something else.

CUAYA: Something interesting in Budapest is that people - they are super friendly with the dogs. And my dogs, they are super happy. But I wonder, did they also notice that people here talk a different language?

CORNISH: Did her dogs realize people spoke Hungarian instead of the Spanish they heard back in Mexico?

KELLY: As it happens, Cuaya was well-equipped to answer that. She is a brain researcher at Hungary's Eotvos Lorand University.

CORNISH: She enlisted 18 canine volunteers, all trained to sit super still inside an MRI scanner. Two of them, her dogs, were used to Spanish. The rest were used to hearing Hungarian.

KELLY: One by one, each dog sat in the scanner and listened to a chapter from "The Little Prince."

CUAYA: Dogs are listening in Hungarian and in Spanish.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

CUAYA: So one of these language was a familiar language for them, and the other one, it was a new one - the unfamiliar.

KELLY: And writing in the journal NeuroImage, Cuaya's team reports they saw different brain activity patterns as the dogs heard the familiar versus unfamiliar language, suggesting the dogs' brains could tell the two apart.

CORNISH: And that's exciting, says Amritha Mallikarjun.

AMRITHA MALLIKARJUN: It shows that the ability to grasp the sounds and rhythms of a familiar language is something accessible to non-humans. And what's really cool is that you can see it more in the older dogs since the older dogs have more exposure to language.

CORNISH: Now, she was not involved in the study but does similar work at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. She says it would be worth looking beyond brain activity to behavior.

MALLIKARJUN: It's important to examine a problem from both the neural and behavioral aspects so you can see how an underlying process plays out all the way through to the dog's actions.

KELLY: Pending more scientific work on that, Cuaya's collaborator, Attila Andics, had this suggestion.

ATTILA ANDICS: You can try what happens when you start talking to your dog in a language they never heard. They will probably look surprised.

CORNISH: There you go - research you can try at home. And if you need some cute doggos (ph) in your life, we have photos of these canine language students. Look for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on Facebook or Twitter.


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