Monkeys are able to string together a simple ‘sentence’, according to research that offers the first evidence that animals might be capable of a key feature of language. British scientists have discovered that the putty-nosed monkey in Nigeria pictured above sometimes communicates by combining sounds into a sequence that has a different meaning from any of its component calls, an ability that was thought to be uniquely human. Although many animals communicate with one another using calls that have a particular meaning - usually a warning signifying the presence of a certain predator - none has been known to combine these alarm calls into sequences similar to those of human language. The findings suggest that the rudiments of syntax, a basic component of human language, may be more widespread among primates than is generally thought, and could ultimately shed light on the evolution of this most distinctly human of traits. The putty-nosed monkeys, Cercopithecus nictitans, of the Gashaka Gumti National Park, have two main alarm call sounds. A sound known onomatopoeically as the ‘pyow’ warns other animals against a lurking leopard, and a cough-like sound that scientists call a ‘hack’ is used when an eagle is […]

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