Until now, experts assumed most species' "voices" were dictated exclusively by genetics and not their surroundings. Exceptions were thought to be limited to humans, elephants, dolphins whales and bats.
A team from Queen Mary, University of London, recorded the bleats of four groups of pygmy goats that were siblings or half siblings at 1 week old and then at 5 weeks old, the study published in British journal Animal Behaviour said. At 5 weeks old the young goats, known as kids, form social groups with other goats of the same age, the researchers said.
The results indicated the goats' "accents" changed as the goats moved into different social settings, disproving claims their quality of voice and intonation were entirely genetic.
"This suggests that goat kids modify their calls according their social surroundings, developing similar 'accents,'" postdoctoral research assistant Elodie Briefer, who led the study, told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
Asked whether the same could be true of other mammals, she said: "We don't know, because people are so sure there's no effect of the environment that no one has checked. But if goats can do it maybe all mammals' accents could be affected by their environment."