Call combinations in monkeys: Compositional or idiomatic expressions?

Kate Arnold & Klaus Zuberbühler

Résumé Syntax is widely considered the feature that most decisively sets human language apart from other natural communication systems. Animal vocalisations are generally considered to be holistic with few examples of utterances meaning something other than the sum of their parts. Previously, we have shown that male putty-nosed monkeys produce call series consisting of two call types in response to different events. They can also be combined into short sequences that convey a different message from those conveyed by either call type alone. Here, we investigate whether 'pyow-hack' sequences are compositional in that the individual calls contribute to their overall meaning. However, the monkeys behaved as if they perceived the sequence as an idiomatic expression rather than decoding the sequence. Nonetheless, while this communication system lacks the generative power of syntax it enables callers to increase the number of messages that can be conveyed by a small and innate call repertoire. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Citation Arnold, K., & Zuberbühler, K. (2012). Call combinations in monkeys: Compositional or idiomatic expressions?. Brain and Language, 120(3), 303-309.
Type Article de périodique (Anglais)
Date de publication 2012
Nom du périodique Brain and Language
Volume 120
Numéro 3
Pages 303-309