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Nonadjacent dependency processing in monkeys, apes, and humans


Watson, Stuart K; Burkart, Judith M; Schapiro, Steven J; Lambeth, Susan P; Mueller, Jutta L; Townsend, Simon W (2020). Nonadjacent dependency processing in monkeys, apes, and humans. Science Advances, 6(43):eabb0725.

Abstract

The ability to track syntactic relationships between words, particularly over distances (“nonadjacent dependencies”), is a critical faculty underpinning human language, although its evolutionary origins remain poorly understood. While some monkey species are reported to process auditory nonadjacent dependencies, comparative data from apes are missing, complicating inferences regarding shared ancestry. Here, we examined nonadjacent dependency processing in common marmosets, chimpanzees, and humans using “artificial grammars”: strings of arbitrary acoustic stimuli composed of adjacent (nonhumans) or nonadjacent (all species) dependencies. Individuals from each species (i) generalized the grammars to novel stimuli and (ii) detected grammatical violations, indicating that they processed the dependencies between constituent elements. Furthermore, there was no difference be-tween marmosets and chimpanzees in their sensitivity to nonadjacent dependencies. These notable similarities between monkeys, apes, and humans indicate that nonadjacent dependency processing, a crucial cognitive facil-itator of language, is an ancestral trait that evolved at least ~40 million years before language itself.

Abstract

The ability to track syntactic relationships between words, particularly over distances (“nonadjacent dependencies”), is a critical faculty underpinning human language, although its evolutionary origins remain poorly understood. While some monkey species are reported to process auditory nonadjacent dependencies, comparative data from apes are missing, complicating inferences regarding shared ancestry. Here, we examined nonadjacent dependency processing in common marmosets, chimpanzees, and humans using “artificial grammars”: strings of arbitrary acoustic stimuli composed of adjacent (nonhumans) or nonadjacent (all species) dependencies. Individuals from each species (i) generalized the grammars to novel stimuli and (ii) detected grammatical violations, indicating that they processed the dependencies between constituent elements. Furthermore, there was no difference be-tween marmosets and chimpanzees in their sensitivity to nonadjacent dependencies. These notable similarities between monkeys, apes, and humans indicate that nonadjacent dependency processing, a crucial cognitive facil-itator of language, is an ancestral trait that evolved at least ~40 million years before language itself.

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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
07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Multidisciplinary
Language:English
Date:2020
Deposited On:18 Nov 2020 08:38
Last Modified:19 Nov 2020 21:00
Publisher:American Association for the Advancement of Science
ISSN:2375-2548
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abb0725

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