Putty-nosed Monkey Sentences

Posted on May 19, 2006

Times Online reports that British scientists have discovered that putty-nosed monkeys use syntax or sentences containing pyows and hacks to mean different things. "Sentences" containing different sequences of pyows and hacks mean different things to the monkeys.

Kate Arnold and Klaus Zuberbuhler, of the University of St Andrews, have now observed the monkeys using these sounds in a new way. A particular sequence of pyows and hacks appears to mean something entirely different.

The monkeys live in groups consisting of a single adult male accompanied by several adult females and their young. When the male utters this "sentence", consisting of up to three pyows followed by up to four hacks, it seems to be a command telling others to move,generally to find safer, less exposed terrain.

They use the signal not only when predators are around, but also during ordinary activities such as foraging. It seems to mean "let's get out of here".

The research is published today in the journal Nature. Dr Arnold said: "These calls were not produced randomly and a number of distinct patterns emerged. One of these patterns was what we have termed a pyow-hack sequence. This was either produced alone or inserted at certain positions in the call series."

Dr Zuberbuhler told the Times, "To our knowledge, this is the first good evidence of a syntax-like natural communication system in a non-human species." Evidence of impressive animal communication has been a trend as of late. Other recent reports of animal intelligence include dolphins giving each other names and song birds learning grammar.

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