Language Parallels in New World Primates



New World monkeys are less well known and less frequently studied than Old World monkeys and apes, yet they have value as models for speech and language. All New World primates are arboreal living in dense forests. This has led to a reliance on vocal communication rather than the visual signaling most common in Old World primates and apes. As a result New World primates have evolved complex vocal repertoires that may share more parallels with human speech than other primates. Many of these species also live in small family groups akin to most human societies. I describe the rationale for studying speech and language parallels in New World primates and present some of the methods used in research. I then discuss several areas of potential parallels including vocal complexity, categorical responses to calls, signals that refer to external objects or events, syntax and rudimentary grammar, developmental processes including babbling, dialects, and vocal control. I conclude with a brief discussion of cognitive abilities in these species some of which have important parallels to human cognition. Although New World primates have not often been subjects of research relating to speech and language disorders, they provide much potential for understanding mechanisms and developmental and functional aspects of speech and language.


New World primates Vocal complexity Referential signals Syntax Babbling Vocal control Cognition 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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