Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Vocal learning in the functionally referential food grunts of chimpanzees


Watson, Stuart K; Townsend, Simon W; Schel, Anne M; Wilke, Claudia; Wallace, Emma K; Cheng, Leveda; West, Victoria; Slocombe, Katie E (2015). Vocal learning in the functionally referential food grunts of chimpanzees. Current Biology, 25(4):495-499.

Abstract

One standout feature of human language is our ability to reference external objects and events with socially learned symbols, or words. Exploring the phylogenetic origins of this capacity is therefore key to a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of language. While non-human primates can produce vocalizations that refer to external objects in the environment, it is generally accepted that their acoustic structure is fixed and a product of arousal states [1]. Indeed, it has been argued that the apparent lack of flexible control over the structure of referential vocalizations represents a key discontinuity with language [2]. Here, we demonstrate vocal learning in the acoustic structure of referential food grunts in captive chimpanzees. We found that, following the integration of two groups of adult chimpanzees, the acoustic structure of referential food grunts produced for a specific food converged over 3 years. Acoustic convergence arose independently of preference for the food, and social network analyses indicated this only occurred after strong affiliative relationships were established between the original subgroups. We argue that these data represent the first evidence of non-human animals actively modifying and socially learning the structure of a meaningful referential vocalization from conspecifics. Our findings indicate that primate referential call structure is not simply determined by arousal and that the socially learned nature of referential words in humans likely has ancient evolutionary origins.

Abstract

One standout feature of human language is our ability to reference external objects and events with socially learned symbols, or words. Exploring the phylogenetic origins of this capacity is therefore key to a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of language. While non-human primates can produce vocalizations that refer to external objects in the environment, it is generally accepted that their acoustic structure is fixed and a product of arousal states [1]. Indeed, it has been argued that the apparent lack of flexible control over the structure of referential vocalizations represents a key discontinuity with language [2]. Here, we demonstrate vocal learning in the acoustic structure of referential food grunts in captive chimpanzees. We found that, following the integration of two groups of adult chimpanzees, the acoustic structure of referential food grunts produced for a specific food converged over 3 years. Acoustic convergence arose independently of preference for the food, and social network analyses indicated this only occurred after strong affiliative relationships were established between the original subgroups. We argue that these data represent the first evidence of non-human animals actively modifying and socially learning the structure of a meaningful referential vocalization from conspecifics. Our findings indicate that primate referential call structure is not simply determined by arousal and that the socially learned nature of referential words in humans likely has ancient evolutionary origins.

Statistics

Citations

42 citations in Web of Science®
38 citations in Scopus®
Google Scholar™

Altmetrics

Downloads

4 downloads since deposited on 31 Dec 2015
0 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:16 February 2015
Deposited On:31 Dec 2015 07:09
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 16:30
Publisher:Cell Press (Elsevier)
ISSN:0960-9822
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.12.032

Download