That ? Dogs’ brains can tell Spanish from Hungarian, study finds

BUDAPEST, Jan. 6 – Dogs can distinguish languages, Hungarian researchers have found after playing excerpts from the story “The Little Prince” in Spanish and Hungarian to a group of 18 dogs and examining their brain reaction.

The study was led by Laura V. Cuaya of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, who moved to the city from Mexico a few years ago, bringing her dog Kun-kun with her.

“I was wondering if Kun-kun had noticed that people in Budapest speak a different language, Hungarian,” she said.

“(In the research), we discovered for the first time that a non-human brain can distinguish (between) languages.”

In their life with humans, dogs pick up the auditory patterns of language they are exposed to, said study co-author Raul Hernandez-Perez.

During the experiment, Kun-kun and others were trained to lie motionless in a brain scanner for several minutes.

Cuaya moved from Mexico to Hungary a few years ago, bringing Kun-Kun with her.

All of the dogs had previously only heard one of the two languages ​​- either Hungarian or Spanish – from their owners, allowing the researchers to compare how their brains reacted to a very familiar language and a other totally unknown.

The dogs listened to snippets of the story in Spanish and Hungarian and also scrambled versions of those snippets to test whether they could detect speech and non-speech.

By comparing brain responses, the researchers found distinct patterns of activity in the primary auditory cortex of dogs’ brains, indicating that they can distinguish between speech and non-speech.

In their secondary auditory cortex which analyzes complex sounds, dogs’ brains produce different patterns of activity when they hear a familiar language and an unfamiliar language. The older the dogs were, the more their brains distinguished between the two languages.

Laura T. Thrasher