Primate Semantics


Cogmaster, January 2018 (LC2)

Site under construction - details subject to change!!

Instructors:    Philippe Schlenker

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

                                  E-mail:     philippe.schlenker@gmail.com

                                    Emmanuel Chemla

                                  Directeur de Recherche, LSCP, Paris
                                    Starting Grant Leader, ERC

                                  E-mail:     em.chemla@gmail.com   

Teaching Assistant:      Jeremy Kuhn, post-doctoral fellow,  Institut Jean-Nicod
                                                            E-mail: jeremy.d.kuhn@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. On a substantive level, we will argue that a precise delineation of the division of labor among semantics, pragmatics, and ecology/world knowledge holds the key to several primate languages.


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

Slides, Problem Sets and Readings: they will be made available in this Dropbox folder.

Main reading: Schlenker et al. 2016, Formal Monkey Linguistics, Theoretical Linguistics

Summary: Schlenker et al. 2016, What do Monkey Calls Mean? Trends in Cognitive Sciences
or for a slightly more detailed encyclopedia-style article: [LingBuzz]

Sauerland 2016, On the Definition of Sentence, Theoretical Linguistics
Schlenker et al. 2016, Formal Monkey Linguistics: the Debate, Theoretical Linguistics

Also useful: 

Sessions (still tentative; to be adapted as we go)
Monday, January 8, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018
Introduction. Campbell's monkeys

Main Reading: Schlenker et al. 2016, Formal Monkey Linguistics, Theoretical Linguistics
Optional Readings:

-Zuberbühler 2009

-Schlenker et al. 2014  ('Monkey Semantics') 

(Campbell's calls): Ouattara et al. 2009a and Ouattara et al. 2009b: less recent and less formal than Schlenker et al. 2014

 (bird grammar): Berwick et al. 2011


Radio program with a discussion of alarm calls in primates [France Inter, in French]

Vervets and calls [BBC]

Vervet calls [BBC]     

Examples of Campbell's calls (BBC)

Putty-nosed monkeys 

Main Reading: Schlenker et al. 2016, Formal Monkey Linguistics, Theoretical Linguistics

Optional Readings: 

Titi monkeys 

Optional readings on Titi monkeys: Cäsar et al. 2013
For later – Readings on Apes:  Hobaiter and Byrne 2011 
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]. Recent advances in gestures: Hobaiter and Byrne 2014.