There are new clues in the quest for a fully coherent theory of the perception and neural representation of size-variant human vowels in the Mongolian gerbil.
Previous investigations in the US (see: Really Magazine January 15th, 2010) found that Mongolian gerbils can easily be trained to recognise vowel sounds in human speech. Now, however, Uwe Firzlaff and colleagues from the Division of Neurobiology, Department Biologie II, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, in Germany, have pointed out that the larger the (human) speaker, the lower the formant frequencies of the spoken vowels tend to be. Raising the question – what happens electrophysiologically in the auditory pathways of the Mongolian gerbil (previously trained to identify human vowels) if the human speakers are of different sizes? Spectral processing plots of the human vowel sounds and electrophysiological recordings of the Superior olive and other hearing-related neurological structures in the gerbils showed that “…the auditory brainstem retains a truthful representation of the frequency content of the presented vowel sounds.”
Details are published in the journal Hearing Research Volume 261, Issues 1-2, March 2010, Pages 1-8