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Syntactic rules in avian vocal sequences as a window into the evolution of compositionality
Univ Tokyo, Dept Gen Syst Studies, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro, Tokyo 1538902, Japan.
Univ Zurich, Dept Evolutionary Biol & Environm Studies, Zurich, Switzerland.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Animal ecology.
2019 (English)In: Animal Behaviour, ISSN 0003-3472, E-ISSN 1095-8282, Vol. 151, p. 267-274Article, review/survey (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Understanding the origins and evolution of language remains a deep challenge, because its complexity and expressive power are unparalleled in the animal world. One of the key features of language is that the meaning of an expression is determined both by the meanings of its constituent parts and the syntactic rules used to combine them; known as the principle of compositionality. Although compositionality has been considered unique to language, recent field studies suggest that compositionality may have also evolved in vocal combinations in nonhuman animals. Here, we discuss how compositionality can be explored in animal communication systems and review recent evidence that birds use an ordering rule to generate compositional expressions composed of meaningful calls. Also, we suggest that bird-songs, particularly when incorporating calls, may represent unrecognized examples of compositionality in animal communication. Finally, we outline future research directions to uncover the development, neural mechanisms and evolution of compositionality. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
ACADEMIC PRESS LTD- ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD , 2019. Vol. 151, p. 267-274
Keywords [en]
bird, birdsong, call combination, communication, compositionality, language evolution, syntax
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-384083DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.01.009ISI: 000467013300027OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-384083DiVA, id: diva2:1326785
Available from: 2019-06-18 Created: 2019-06-18 Last updated: 2019-06-18Bibliographically approved

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Wheatcroft, David

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