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Experimental evidence for compositional syntax in bird calls
SOKENDAI Grad Univ Adv Studies, Dept Evolutionary Studies Biosyst, Kamiyamaguchi 1560-35, Hayama, Kanagawa 2400193, Japan.;Rikkyo Univ, Dept Life Sci, Toshima Ku, Nishi Ikebukuro 3-34-1, Tokyo 1718501, Japan..
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Animal ecology. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Neuroscience, Developmental Neuroscience.
Univ Zurich, Anthropol Inst & Museum, Winterthurerstr 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland..
2016 (English)In: Nature Communications, ISSN 2041-1723, E-ISSN 2041-1723, Vol. 7, 10986Article in journal (Refereed) PublishedText
Abstract [en]

Human language can express limitless meanings from a finite set of words based on combinatorial rules (i.e., compositional syntax). Although animal vocalizations may be comprised of different basic elements (notes), it remains unknown whether compositional syntax has also evolved in animals. Here we report the first experimental evidence for compositional syntax in a wild animal species, the Japanese great tit (Parus minor). Tits have over ten different notes in their vocal repertoire and use them either solely or in combination with other notes. Experiments reveal that receivers extract different meanings from 'ABC' (scan for danger) and 'D' notes (approach the caller), and a compound meaning from 'ABCD' combinations. However, receivers rarely scan and approach when note ordering is artificially reversed ('D-ABC'). Thus, compositional syntax is not unique to human language but may have evolved independently in animals as one of the basic mechanisms of information transmission.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 7, 10986
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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-283660DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10986ISI: 000371726400001PubMedID: 26954097OAI: diva2:919544
Available from: 2016-04-14 Created: 2016-04-14 Last updated: 2016-04-14Bibliographically approved

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