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Gelada monkeys know their linguistic math

Ethiopian species’ calls are shorter when part of long sequences, study finds

1:10pm, April 22, 2016
gelada monkey

MONKEY TALK  The vocalizations of gelada monkeys follow a mathematical principle seen in human language, shedding light on language evolution, new research suggests.

The grunts, moans and wobbles of gelada monkeys, a chatty species residing in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, observe a universal mathematical principle seen until now only in human language.

The new research, published online April 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the evolution of primate communication and complex human language, the researchers say.

“Human language is like an onion,” says Simone Pika, head of the Humboldt Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, who was not involved in the study. “When you peel back the layers, you find that it is based on these underlying mechanisms, many of which were already present in animal communication. This research neatly shows there is another ability already present.”

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