Animal Learning & Behavior

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Elements of syntax in the systems of three language-trained animals

  • Edward KakoEmail author


Which properties of syntax are uniquely human, and which can be acquired by other animals? Relevant evidence is provided by work with three language-trained animals: the African gray parrot Alex, who can produce and comprehend a small fragment of English; the bottle-nosed dolphins Ake and Phoenix, who can comprehend a gestural and an acoustic language, respectively; and the bonobo Kanzi, who can produce combinations of lexigrams and comprehend a significant fragment of English. The systems of these animals are examined for evidence of four core properties of syntax: discrete combinatorics, category-based rules, argument structure, and closed-class items. Additional studies that explore further what these animals can learn about these core properties are suggested.


Noun Phrase Human Language Direct Object Argument Structure Thematic Role 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia

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