Primate Semantics

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.

Honor Code

To encourage learning and discussion, the use of phones, tablets or computers is strongly discouraged during class, unless it involves taking notes and referring to writings assigned for the class (in which case all other applications should be closed).

Discussing homeworks with classmates
You are allowed to discuss homework assignments with your classmates. But in case you engage in substantive discussions of solutions:  
(i) you must indicate in your write-up the names of classmates with which you discussed solutions in some depth, and  
(ii) you must write up your answers to the assignment by yourself. Under no circumstances are you to share typed-up answers to the assignments or to discuss the actual write-ups.

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: 

Relevant as well: Stanislas Dehaene's course on 'Origines du langage et singularité de l'espèce humaine', starting January 8, 2018

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

Monday, January 15, 2018
[last session]

Introduction. Campbell's monkeys [no TA session, but please keep the 3rd hour open]

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)

Problem Set #4  is now available in the Dropbox folder.

Note: the last homework is due on Friday, January 19th, 9pm.

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.

TA session: discuss Problem Set #3 and #4.