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Call combinations in great apes and the evolution of syntax


Leroux, Maël; Townsend, Simon W (2020). Call combinations in great apes and the evolution of syntax. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 7(2):131-139.

Abstract

Following the observation that vervet monkeys are capable of labelling different predator types with their vocalizations, comparative research in language evolution gained increasing interest. Over the last four decades, an impressive body of data has since accumulated demonstrating that many features of language can be found in the communication systems of nonhuman primates. One stumbling block to the phylogenetic reconstruction of language, however, has been language’s syntactic layer. We specifically highlight that, whilst current studies provide promising evidence for syntactic-like structures in the communication systems of monkeys, reconstructing the evolutionary origins of syntax hinges on comparable data from our closest-living relatives, the great apes. We critically assess existing data on potential candidates for combinatorial structures in the great ape clade and conclude that further experimental investigation is crucial to validating preliminary observational findings.

Abstract

Following the observation that vervet monkeys are capable of labelling different predator types with their vocalizations, comparative research in language evolution gained increasing interest. Over the last four decades, an impressive body of data has since accumulated demonstrating that many features of language can be found in the communication systems of nonhuman primates. One stumbling block to the phylogenetic reconstruction of language, however, has been language’s syntactic layer. We specifically highlight that, whilst current studies provide promising evidence for syntactic-like structures in the communication systems of monkeys, reconstructing the evolutionary origins of syntax hinges on comparable data from our closest-living relatives, the great apes. We critically assess existing data on potential candidates for combinatorial structures in the great ape clade and conclude that further experimental investigation is crucial to validating preliminary observational findings.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Language Science
Special Collections > NCCR Evolving Language
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Language:English
Date:1 May 2020
Deposited On:25 Jan 2022 17:49
Last Modified:05 Apr 2022 15:23
Publisher:Sciknow Publications Ltd.
ISSN:2372-5052
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.07.02.07.2020
  • Content: Published Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)