Call combinations and compositional processing in wild chimpanzees
MetadataShow full item record
Altmetrics Handle Statistics
Altmetrics DOI Statistics
Through syntax, i.e., the combination of words into larger phrases, language can express a limitless number of messages. Data in great apes, our closest-living relatives, are central to the reconstruction of syntax’s phylogenetic origins, yet are currently lacking. Here, we provide evidence for syntactic-like structuring in chimpanzee communication. Chimpanzees produce “alarm-huus” when surprised and “waa-barks” when potentially recruiting conspecifics during aggression or hunting. Anecdotal data suggested chimpanzees combine these calls specifically when encountering snakes. Using snake presentations, we confirm call combinations are produced when individuals encounter snakes and find that more individuals join the caller after hearing the combination. To test the meaning-bearing nature of the call combination, we use playbacks of artificially-constructed call combinations and both independent calls. Chimpanzees react most strongly to call combinations, showing longer looking responses, compared with both independent calls. We propose the “alarm-huu + waa-bark” represents a compositional syntactic-like structure, where the meaning of the call combination is derived from the meaning of its parts. Our work suggests that compositional structures may not have evolved de novo in the human lineage, but that the cognitive building-blocks facilitating syntax may have been present in our last common ancestor with chimpanzees.
Leroux , M , Schel , A M , Wilke , C , Chandia , B , Zuberbühler , K , Slocombe , K E & Townsend , S W 2023 , ' Call combinations and compositional processing in wild chimpanzees ' , Nature Communications , vol. 14 , 2225 . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-37816-y
Copyright © The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
DescriptionFunding: This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (PP00P3_163850 & PP00P3_198912) to S.W.T. and the NCCR Evolving Language (SNSF Agreement #51NF40_180888).
Items in the St Andrews Research Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.