Brief Communications

Nature 441, 303 (18 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/441303a; Received 13 December 2005; Accepted 6 April 2006; Published online 17 May 2006

Language evolution: Semantic combinations in primate calls

Kate Arnold1 & Klaus Zuberbühler1

Syntax sets human language apart from other natural communication systems, although its evolutionary origins are obscure1. Here we show that free-ranging putty-nosed monkeys combine two vocalizations into different call sequences that are linked to specific external events, such as the presence of a predator and the imminent movement of the group. Our findings indicate that non-human primates can combine calls into higher-order sequences that have a particular meaning.

  1. School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9JP, UK

Correspondence to: Klaus Zuberbühler1 Email:


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