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Element repetition rates encode functionally distinct information in pied babbler ‘clucks’ and ‘purrs’


Engesser, Sabrina; Ridley, Amanda R; Townsend, Simon W (2017). Element repetition rates encode functionally distinct information in pied babbler ‘clucks’ and ‘purrs’. Animal Cognition, 20(5):953-960.

Abstract

Human language is a recombinant system that achieves its productivity through the combination of a limited set of sounds. Research investigating the evolutionary origin of this generative capacity has generally focused on the capacity of non-human animals to combine different types of discrete sounds to encode new meaning, with less emphasis on meaning-differentiating mechanisms achieved through potentially simpler temporal modifications within a sequence of repeated sounds. Here we show that pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor) generate two functionally distinct vocalisations composed of the same sound type, which can only be distinguished by the number of repeated elements. Specifically, babblers produce extended ‘purrs’ composed of, on average, around 17 element repetitions when drawing young offspring to a food source and truncated ‘clucks’ composed of a fixed number of 2–3 elements when collectively mediating imminent changes in foraging site. We propose that meaning-differentiating temporal structuring might be a much more widespread combinatorial mechanism than currently recognised and is likely of particular value for species with limited vocal repertoires in order to increase their communicative output.

Abstract

Human language is a recombinant system that achieves its productivity through the combination of a limited set of sounds. Research investigating the evolutionary origin of this generative capacity has generally focused on the capacity of non-human animals to combine different types of discrete sounds to encode new meaning, with less emphasis on meaning-differentiating mechanisms achieved through potentially simpler temporal modifications within a sequence of repeated sounds. Here we show that pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor) generate two functionally distinct vocalisations composed of the same sound type, which can only be distinguished by the number of repeated elements. Specifically, babblers produce extended ‘purrs’ composed of, on average, around 17 element repetitions when drawing young offspring to a food source and truncated ‘clucks’ composed of a fixed number of 2–3 elements when collectively mediating imminent changes in foraging site. We propose that meaning-differentiating temporal structuring might be a much more widespread combinatorial mechanism than currently recognised and is likely of particular value for species with limited vocal repertoires in order to increase their communicative output.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Animal communication; Combinatoriality; Element repetition; Language evolution; Temporal structure; Turdoides bicolor
Language:English
Date:September 2017
Deposited On:10 Nov 2017 14:43
Last Modified:19 Feb 2018 09:13
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:1435-9448
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-017-1114-6
Official URL:https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s10071-017-1114-6?author_access_token=-xH7xpN0zFUF_dl24T5rI_e4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY4qGbV7vefl-HfIR-1AdsFI9dWj9nq_T0NDUVkmdrPTEWo4FRonFQS2N2rydnAENQRHIoOSxEq9fy-k7riBZBAFrAVaDL7ADYkIgYg9MI8QZQ%3D%3D
PubMed ID:28730513

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