Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 439–501 | Cite as

Monkey semantics: two ‘dialects’ of Campbell’s monkey alarm calls

  • Philippe Schlenker
  • Emmanuel Chemla
  • Kate Arnold
  • Alban Lemasson
  • Karim Ouattara
  • Sumir Keenan
  • Claudia Stephan
  • Robin Ryder
  • Klaus Zuberbühler
Research Article

Abstract

We develop a formal semantic analysis of the alarm calls used by Campbell’s monkeys in the Tai forest (Ivory Coast) and on Tiwai island (Sierra Leone)—two sites that differ in the main predators that the monkeys are exposed to (eagles on Tiwai vs. eagles and leopards in Tai). Building on data discussed in Ouattara et al. (PLoS ONE 4(11):e7808, 2009a; PNAS 106(51): 22026–22031, 2009b and Arnold et al. (Population differences in wild Campbell’s monkeys alarm call use, 2013), we argue that on both sites alarm calls include the roots krak and hok, which can optionally be affixed with -oo, a kind of attenuating suffix; in addition, sentences can start with boom boom, which indicates that the context is not one of predation. In line with Arnold et al., we show that the meaning of the roots is not quite the same in Tai and on Tiwai: krak often functions as a leopard alarm call in Tai, but as a general alarm call on Tiwai. We develop models based on a compositional semantics in which concatenation is interpreted as conjunction, roots have lexical meanings, -oo is an attenuating suffix, and an all-purpose alarm parameter is raised with each individual call. The first model accounts for the difference between Tai and Tiwai by way of different lexical entries for krak. The second model gives the same underspecified entry to krak in both locations (= general alarm call), but it makes use of a competition mechanism akin to scalar implicatures. In Tai, strengthening yields a meaning equivalent to non-aerial dangerous predator and turns out to single out leopards. On Tiwai, strengthening yields a nearly contradictory meaning due to the absence of ground predators, and only the unstrengthened meaning is used.

Keywords

Primate linguistics Primate semantics Alarm calls Primate communication 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philippe Schlenker
    • 1
  • Emmanuel Chemla
    • 2
  • Kate Arnold
    • 3
  • Alban Lemasson
    • 4
    • 5
  • Karim Ouattara
    • 6
  • Sumir Keenan
    • 3
  • Claudia Stephan
    • 7
    • 8
  • Robin Ryder
    • 9
  • Klaus Zuberbühler
    • 3
    • 10
  1. 1.Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRSParisFrance
  2. 2.LSCP, CNRSParisFrance
  3. 3.School of Psychology & NeuroscienceUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsScotland, UK
  4. 4.Université de Rennes 1, Laboratoire d’éthologie animale et humaine, UMR 6552 – C.N.R.S.Rennes CedexFrance
  5. 5.Institut Universitaire de France, Maison des universitésParisFrance
  6. 6.Laboratory of Zoology and Animal BiologyUniversity Félix Houphouet Boigny Côte d’IvoireAbidjanIvory Coast
  7. 7.Institute of Biology, Department of Comparative CognitionUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  8. 8.School of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsScotland, UK
  9. 9.Centre de Recherche en Mathématiques de la DécisionUniversité Paris-DauphineParisFrance
  10. 10.Cognitive Science CentreUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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