December 9th, 2009

  • gwinna

Boom! Hok! A Monkey Language Is Deciphered

Boom boom! (I’m here, come to me!)
Krak krak! (Watch out, a leopard!)
Hok hok hok! (Hey, crowned eagle!)

Very good — you have already mastered half the basic vocabulary of the Campbell’s monkey, a fellow primate that lives in the forests of the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast. The adult males have six types of call, each with a specific meaning, but they can string two or more calls together into a message with a different meaning. Having spent months recording the monkeys’ calls in response to both natural and artificial stimuli, a group led by Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland argues that the Campbell’s monkeys have a primitive form of syntax.

This is likely to be a controversial claim because despite extensive efforts to teach chimpanzees language, the subjects showed little or no ability to combine the sounds they learned into a sentence with a larger meaning. Syntax, basic to the structure of language, seemed be a uniquely human faculty.
Link to New York Times Article or Collapse )