Do Monkeys Have a Language?

Do Monkeys Have a Language?Anyone who’s spent time observing monkeys knows that they seem to be in communication with each other. But do they have language? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.Ambience vervet monkeys shrieks. We’re listening to the sounds of vervet monkeys. In the wild, the vervets’ predators are leopards, snakes, and eagles. And the monkeys have a different alarm call for each predator. Cheney: “A number of different monkey species have what we might call a rudimentary semantic system of communication. They have sounds that serve to designate objects and events in the world around them. And in that sense, they appear to have a rudimentary language.” Dr. Dorothy Cheney, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the vervet monkeys’ vocalizations including their alarm calls.Cheney: “We were interested in determining whether or not these calls might have a kind of semantic or referential function. Did the call by itself allow animals to know that there was a leopard or eagle or snake nearby? So when we first went out to study these monkeys, we did some playback experiments where we would hide a loudspeaker in a bush, and then play from that loudspeaker an alarm call, either a leopard alarm call, an eagle alarm call, or a snake alarm call, to nearby monkeys, in order to see what their reactions would be. And we found that the monkeys did respond appropriately to these alarm calls. When they heard a leopard alarm call, animals ran toward trees; when they heard an eagle alarm call, animals looked up into the air. So in other words, the call, by itself in the absence of any other contextual cues, was sufficient to give the animals information about what was going on in the world around them. In a sense, they functioned as if they were words.” This archival program is part of our thirtieth anniversary celebration. Im Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Do Monkeys Have a Language?

One of the classic studies of animal communication. This archival program is part of Pulse of the Planet's 30th anniversary celebration. Dorothy Cheney is a professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Air Date:06/28/2018
Scientist:
Transcript:

Do Monkeys Have a Language?Anyone who's spent time observing monkeys knows that they seem to be in communication with each other. But do they have language? I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.Ambience vervet monkeys shrieks. We're listening to the sounds of vervet monkeys. In the wild, the vervets' predators are leopards, snakes, and eagles. And the monkeys have a different alarm call for each predator. Cheney: "A number of different monkey species have what we might call a rudimentary semantic system of communication. They have sounds that serve to designate objects and events in the world around them. And in that sense, they appear to have a rudimentary language." Dr. Dorothy Cheney, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the vervet monkeys' vocalizations including their alarm calls.Cheney: "We were interested in determining whether or not these calls might have a kind of semantic or referential function. Did the call by itself allow animals to know that there was a leopard or eagle or snake nearby? So when we first went out to study these monkeys, we did some playback experiments where we would hide a loudspeaker in a bush, and then play from that loudspeaker an alarm call, either a leopard alarm call, an eagle alarm call, or a snake alarm call, to nearby monkeys, in order to see what their reactions would be. And we found that the monkeys did respond appropriately to these alarm calls. When they heard a leopard alarm call, animals ran toward trees; when they heard an eagle alarm call, animals looked up into the air. So in other words, the call, by itself in the absence of any other contextual cues, was sufficient to give the animals information about what was going on in the world around them. In a sense, they functioned as if they were words." This archival program is part of our thirtieth anniversary celebration. Im Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.