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      Campbell's Monkeys Use Affixation to Alter Call Meaning

      1 , 2 , 3 , 1 , 2 , 4 , *

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          Human language has evolved on a biological substrate with phylogenetic roots deep in the primate lineage. Here, we describe a functional analogy to a common morphological process in human speech, affixation, in the alarm calls of free-ranging adult Campbell's monkeys ( Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli). We found that male alarm calls are composed of an acoustically variable stem, which can be followed by an acoustically invariable suffix. Using long-term observations and predator simulation experiments, we show that suffixation in this species functions to broaden the calls' meaning by transforming a highly specific eagle alarm to a general arboreal disturbance call or by transforming a highly specific leopard alarm call to a general alert call. We concluded that, when referring to specific external events, non-human primates can generate meaningful acoustic variation during call production that is functionally equivalent to suffixation in human language.

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          Most cited references 15

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          The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?

           M. Hauser (2002)
          We argue that an understanding of the faculty of language requires substantial interdisciplinary cooperation. We suggest how current developments in linguistics can be profitably wedded to work in evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience. We submit that a distinction should be made between the faculty of language in the broad sense (FLB) and in the narrow sense (FLN). FLB includes a sensory-motor system, a conceptual-intentional system, and the computational mechanisms for recursion, providing the capacity to generate an infinite range of expressions from a finite set of elements. We hypothesize that FLN only includes recursion and is the only uniquely human component of the faculty of language. We further argue that FLN may have evolved for reasons other than language, hence comparative studies might look for evidence of such computations outside of the domain of communication (for example, number, navigation, and social relations).
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            Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size.

            Many animals produce alarm signals when they detect a potential predator, but we still know little about the information contained in these signals. Using presentations of 15 species of live predators, we show that acoustic features of the mobbing calls of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) vary with the size of the predator. Companion playback experiments revealed that chickadees detect this information and that the intensity of mobbing behavior is related to the size and threat of the potential predator. This study demonstrates an unsuspected level of complexity and sophistication in avian alarm calls.
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              Language evolution: semantic combinations in primate calls.

              Syntax sets human language apart from other natural communication systems, although its evolutionary origins are obscure. Here we show that free-ranging putty-nosed monkeys combine two vocalizations into different call sequences that are linked to specific external events, such as the presence of a predator and the imminent movement of the group. Our findings indicate that non-human primates can combine calls into higher-order sequences that have a particular meaning.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                12 November 2009
                : 4
                : 11
                [1 ]Laboratoire EthoS “Ethologie animale et humaine”, U.M.R. 6552-C.N.R.S., Université de Rennes 1, Station Biologique, Paimpont, France
                [2 ]Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
                [3 ]Laboratoire de Zoologie et de Biologie Animale, Université de Cocody, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
                [4 ]School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, United Kingdom
                University of California San Diego, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: KO AL KZ. Performed the experiments: KO. Analyzed the data: KO. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: AL KZ. Wrote the paper: AL KZ.

                Ouattara et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 7
                Research Article
                Ecology/Behavioral Ecology
                Evolutionary Biology/Animal Behavior
                Evolutionary Biology/Human Evolution



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