ENS13-Primate Semantics


Primate Semantics

Cogmaster, November-December 2013

Instructor:          Philippe Schlenker

                                     Directeur de Recherche, Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris
                                     Global Distinguished Professor, New York University
                                     Euryi Project Leader, ESF; Advanced Grant Leader, ERC

                                     E-mail:     philippe.schlenker@gmail.com


In the last 30 years, field experiments in primatology have yielded rich data on the morphology, syntax and semantics of primate alarm calls.  To give but one (particularly rich) example: Ouattara et al. 2009a, b suggested that male Campbell's monkey calls (i) involve 4 roots (krak, hok, wak, boom), (ii) one suffix (-oo) which attaches to 3 of the roots (yielding krak-oo, hok-oo, wak-oo), and (iii) possibly one clear syntactic rule (boom appears sentence-initially); we will further suggest on the basis of more recent data that (iv) an explicit semantics can be devised for these calls, and that (v) it can account for apparent cases of dialectal variation among Campbell's monkeys. The goal of these sessions is to (i) review recent results on the communication systems of primates, especially monkeys, and (ii) to apply tools from formal semantics and pragmatics to them. This methodological goal is largely independent from the issue of the evolutionary connection between human language and these other communication systems – although in the long run detailed analyses of their formal properties should help illuminate the evolutionary question.


Besides active class participation:
(i) read the assigned paper;
(ii) short exercises will be assigned.

Sessions and Readings (still tentative; to be adapted as we go)

Note: the readings and slides will be made available by way of a shared Dropbox folder. Please email the instructor to obtain the link.

Monday, November 4th, 2013 Lecture 1. Introduction
Readings: Zuberbühler 2009

Optional but recommended: Berwick et al. 2011

Note: The slides [which are not to be circulated] are in the Dropbox folder that also contains the readings.

Monday, November 18th, 2013Lecture 2. Monkey calls I: Campbell's monkeys 

Readings: Schlenker et al. 2013 [alternative: Ouattara et al. 2009a and Ouattara et al. 2009b: less recent and less formal than Schlenker et al. 2013]

Monday, November 25th, 2013Lecture 3. Monkey calls II:
Putty-nosed and Blue monkeys
Readings: Arnold and Zuberbühler 2012.
Optional reading: Pappworth et al. 2008
Monday, December 9th, 2013Lecture 5. Ape communication Readings: Hobaiter and Byrne 2011 Optional: Vocal communication in Chimpanzees: Slocombe and Zuberbühler 2010 'Signing' Chimpanzees: Rivas 2005 [for a very brief summary of work on signing apes, see the end of Jensvold 2009]
Homework [doc] [pdf]

Due: Friday, December 20, 2013 by 7pm

by e-mail to:  philippe.schlenker@gmail.com
 (please submit your homework in .doc format – or if this is impossible in .pdf)

Bonobo food calls [go to Audio S1 - Audio S2]

'Signing' Apes

Bonobos using lexigrams

'Kanzi, an Ape of Genius' (NHK)


Initial References

(Some relevant articles will be made available by way of a shared Dropbox folder.)

Arnold, Kate, Lemasson, Alban, and Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2013, Population differences in combinatorial calling of wild Campbell's monkeys. Manuscript, University of St Andrews.

Arnold, Kate, Pohlner, Y., & Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2008,  A forest monkeys alarm calls to predator models. Behavioral.  Ecology and Sociobiology, 62, 549–559.

Arnold, Kate and Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2012,  Call combinations in monkeys: Compositional or idiomatic expressions?, Brain and Language, 120, 3: 303-309, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2011.10.001.   

Arnold , K & Zuberbühler , K: 2013, Female putty-nosed monkeys use experimentally altered contextual information to disambiguate the cause of male alarm calls. PLoS One , vol 8 , no. 6 , e65660 .

Berwick RCOkanoya KBeckers GJBolhuis JJ.: 2011, Songs to Syntax: the Linguistics of BirdsongsTrends in Cognitive Science 15(3):113-21

Cäsar, Cristiane, Byrne, Richard, Young, Robert J. and Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2012,  The alarm call system of wild black-fronted titi monkeys, Callicebus nigrifrons Behav Ecol Sociobiol, 66:653–667

Cheney, Dorothy and Seyfarth, Robert: 1990,  How Monkeys See The World: Inside The Mind Of Another Species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chierchia, Gennaro, Danny Fox, and Benjamin Spector. To appear. The Grammatical View of Scalar Implicatures and the Relationship between Semantics and Pragmatics. In Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, ed. Paul Portner, Claudia Maienborn, and Klaus von Heusinger. Berlin, NewYork: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dyer, Fred D.: 2002, The Biology of the Dance Language. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 2002. 47:917–49

Fichtel C, Kappeler P. 2002. Anti-predator behavior of group-living Malagasy primates: mixed evidence for a referential alarm call system. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51:262–275.

Fleiss, Joseph L.: 1981, Statistical Methods for Rates and Proportions. New York: John Wiley and Sons

Gautier, Jean-Pierre: 1989, A redrawn phylogeny of guenons based upon their calls – biogeographical implications.  Bioacoustics: The International Journal of Animal Sound and its Recording2:1, 11-21

Gautier-Hion, Annie, Colyn, Annie and Gautier, Jean-Pierre : Histoire naturelle des primates d'Afrique Centrale, ECOFAC,‎ 1999 [pdf]

Grice, Paul: 1975, Logic and conversation. In Syntax and Semantics, 3: Speech Acts, ed. P. Cole & J. Morgan. New York: Academic Press.

Fitch, W. T., & Hauser, M. D.: 2004, Computational constraints on syntactic processing in a nonhuman primate. Science, 303, 377-380.  

Hobaiter, Catherine and Byrne, Richard: 2011, The Gestural Repertoire of the Wild Chimpanzee, Anim Cogn DOI 10.1007/s10071-011-0409-2

Horn, Laurence R.: 1972, On the Semantic Properties of Logical Operators in English, PhD thesis, University of California, LA.

Lachlan R.F.: 2005, Bird song dialects. In: The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. 2nd Edition K. Brown (ed). Elsevier, Oxford UK, p. 538.

Landis, J. Richard, and Gary G. Koch: 1977, The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 33: 159-174.

Lemasson, A., Glas, L., Barbu, S., Lacroix, A., Guilloux, M., Remeuf, K., Koda, H.: 2011a,  Youngsters do not pay attention to conversational rules: also in nonhuman primates? Nature Scientific reports 1, 22.

Lemasson, A., & Hausberger, M.: 2011,  Acoustic variability and social significance of calls in female Campbell’s monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli). Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 129(5), 3341-3352.

Lemasson, A., Ouattara, K., Bouchet, H., Zuberbühler, K.: 2010, Speed of call delivery is related to context and caller identity in Campbell’s monkey males. Naturwissenschaften, 97, 11, 1023-1027.

Lemasson, A., Ouattara, K., Petit, E., Zuberbühler, K.: 2011b, . Social learning of vocal structure in a nonhuman primate? BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 362.

Lemasson, A., Zuberbühler, K. & Hausberger, M.: 2005,  Socially meaningful vocal plasticity in Campbell’s monkeys. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 119 (2), 220-229.

Lemasson A.: 2011,  What can forest guenons « tell » us about the origin of language? In: Vilain A, Schwartz J-L, Abry C, Jauclair J, editors. Primate Communication and Human Language: Vocalisation, gestures, imitation and deixis in humans and non-humans. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 39–70.

Magri, Giorgio: 2009, A theory of individual-level predicates based on blind mandatory scalar implicatures. In Natural Language Semantics, 17.3; pp. 245-297.

Marshall, A., Wrangham, R. & Clark Arcadi, A. 1999. Does learning affect the structure of vocalizations in chimpanzees? Animal Behaviour58, 825-830.

Ouattara, K., Lemasson, A. & Zuberbühler, K. 2009a. Campbell’s monkeys use affixation to alter call meaning. PLoS ONE, 4, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.  

Ouattara, K., Lemasson, A. & Zuberbühler, K. 2009b. Campbell’s monkeys concatenate vocalizations into context-specific call sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 106, 51, pp. 22026-22031

Ouattara K, Zuberbühler, N’Goran EK, Gombert J-E, Lemasson A, 2009c. The alarm call system of female Campbell’s monkeys. Anim. Behav. 78: 35–44.

Perelman, Polina, Warren E. Johnson, Christian Roos, Hector N. Seuánez, Julie E. Horvath, Miguel AM Moreira, Bailey Kessing et al.: 2011, A molecular phylogeny of living primates. PLoS genetics 7, no. 3: e1001342.

Schlenker, Philippe: to appear, The Semantics/Pragmatics Interface. To appear in M. Aloni & P. Dekker (eds.) Cambridge Handbook of Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seyfarth RM, Cheney DL: 1986,  Vocal development in vervet monkeys. Anim Behav 34: 1640–1658.

Seyfarth RM, Cheney DL, and Marler P.: 1980a,  Monkey responses to three different alarm calls: evidence of predator classification and semantic communication. Science 210:801–803.

Seyfarth RM, Cheney DL, Marler P. 1980b.Vervet monkey alarm calls: semantic communication in a free-ranging primate. Anim Behav 28:1070–1094.

Stalnaker, Robert C. 2002. Common ground. Linguistics and Philosophy 25: 701-21.

Skyrms, Brian: 1996, Evolution and the Social Contract. Cambridge University Press.

Spector, Benjamin: 2007, Aspects of the pragmatics of plural morphology: On higher-order implicatures. In Uli Sauerland and Penka Stateva (eds.),  Presupposition and Implicature in Compositional Semantics, pages 243-281. PalgraveMacmillan, Houndsmills.

Stephan C, Zuberbühler K.: 2008, Predation increases acoustic complexity in primate alarm calls. Biol Lett 4:641–644

C.N. Templeton, Erick Greene, Kate Davis, 2005. Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science 308:1934-1937 

Wheeler, B.C. & Fischer, J. (2012) Functionally referential signals: a promising paradigm whose time has passed. Evolutionary Anthropology 21: 195-205.

Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2000, Interspecies semantic communication in two forest primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Ser B Biol Sci 267:713–718

Zuberbühler, Klaus: 2002,A syntactic rule in forest monkey communicationAnimal Behaviour 63 (2), 293-299

Zuberbühler, K.: 2003, Referential signalling in non-human primates: cognitive precursors and limitations for the evolution of language. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 33, 265–307

Zuberbühler, K.: 2009,Survivor Signals: The Biology and Psychology of Animal Alarm Calling. Advances in the Study of Behavior, Vol 40, 40, 277-322