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Monkeys With Syntax

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the there's-a-word-for-that dept.

Science 197

jamie writes "The Campbell's monkey has a vocabulary with at least six types of basic call, but new research published in the PNAS claims that they combine them and string them together to communicate new meanings. (Login may be required on the NY Times site.) For example, the word for 'leopard' gets an '-oo' suffix to mean 'unseen predator.' But when that word is repeated after 'come over here,' the combination means 'Timber!' — a warning of falling trees. Scientists have known for some time that vervet monkeys have different warning calls for different predators — eagle, leopard, and snake — but unlike the Campbell's monkeys, vervets don't combine those calls to create new meanings, a key component of syntax. The researchers plan to play back recordings to the monkeys to test their theories for syntax errors."

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197 comments

It was the blurst of times. (4, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373584)

FP!

Re:It was the blurst of times. (5, Funny)

Vombatus (777631) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373604)

Get enough of them together and it will be like watching a Shakespeare play

Re:It was the blurst of times. (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373738)

It's already better than Reality TV.

Re:It was the blurst of times. (4, Funny)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373774)

On another note, the scientists have confirmed that they can pronounce the words "internet" and "nuclear" correctly.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374132)

Did they spank the monkeys?

Re:It was the blurst of times. (0, Troll)

hedronist (233240) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374092)

Strangely enough, your sig link sucks any humor out of your triumphant 'FP!'. I'm surprised you didn't try to get the monkeys to start tea-bagging in the Name of Freedom. You could probably get them to go 'oo-oo-oo' if you presented them with an autographed copy of Sarah Palin's 'book'.

Go ahead, mod me as -1 Troll. Just make sure you mod parent as well.

Re:It was the blurst of times. (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374180)

Strangely enough, your sig link sucks any humor out of your triumphant 'FP!'. I'm surprised you didn't try to get the monkeys to start tea-bagging in the Name of Freedom. You could probably get them to go 'oo-oo-oo' if you presented them with an autographed copy of Sarah Palin's 'book'.

Go ahead, mod me as -1 Troll. Just make sure you mod parent as well.

I for one have no problem separating the man's political views from the humor in his post. He's entitled to them, and a link in a sig that I'd have to decide to follow does not constitute a case of him shoving those views down anyone's throat. Sorry but targeting him for that is worse than anything he could write in a blog. I actually view it as a tiny microcosm of how religious wars get started.

For what it's worth, I don't usually visit links in sigs. There are so many of them and I'd rather just read the comments. However, your comment piqued my curiosity and caused me to visit his blog. I think you gave him some free publicity.

Re:It was the blurst of times. (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374304)

For the record, it's not my blog. (:

But excellent points you made there.

Re:It was the blurst of times. (0, Offtopic)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374342)

For the record, that isn't my blog. And I only agree with 75% of the blog author's opinions.

But let me please get this straight: according to you, anyone who disapproves of socialism is incapable of humor? Or anyone who dislikes Obama is undeserving of positive feedback from this group?

Re:It was the blurst of times. (1, Offtopic)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374576)

For the record, that isn't my blog. And I only agree with 75% of the blog author's opinions.

But let me please get this straight: according to you, anyone who disapproves of socialism is incapable of humor? Or anyone who dislikes Obama is undeserving of positive feedback from this group?

There's one thing that blogger is damn straight about. Things are not quite what they seem and we are being lied to. I can tolerate all kinds of differences in belief so long as there is the common ground of recognizing that. I don't like Obama either but it's not personal. No man who really has your best interests at heart needs a multimillion dollar campaign to convince you of that. That's the case with Obama and whoever else has any real chance at winning a presidential election. It really does not matter who is in office. It's about who has the money and power to put them there. In that sense they're all the same to me. None of them are going to do anything that is too contrary to the interests of their benefactors. That's going to be the case so long as we have the two-party duopoly.

Re:It was the blurst of times. (1)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374504)

Best. Simpsons. Reference. Ever!

Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (5, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373586)

But when they throw "exceptions", look out!

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (2, Funny)

norpy (1277318) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373602)

throw new ClumpOfPooException();

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373618)

I pity the object that catches that.

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373772)

Nobody will catch it. It'll just lead to a gigantic core dump.

Vicious circle (2, Funny)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374024)

That's how it began!

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (5, Funny)

von_rick (944421) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374430)

Monkeys have an amazing ability to fling core dumps.

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374116)

Holy crap your sig makes me so angry.

Re:Monkey syntax errors aren't so bad (0)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374620)

On an anecdote: A friend of mine told me that in South Africa, you see groups of monkeys roaming the streets like gangs. They come to the house, steal the food, and destroy everything.

But he saw them on the street, and a poor dog got into their way. They literally ripped the dog into pieces!
Bear in mind that they have a pull strength up to 1700 pounds!
So you can imagine the mess and gore of it. With blood and bowels all over the place.

No messin’ around with those little bastards! ^^

(Think about it: If we still were cavemen, then we'd be able to overpower even them. Sad that humans got so weak. :/)

Syntax errors? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373594)

The researchers plan to play back recordings to the monkeys to test their theories for syntax errors.

And the GNU toolchain folks expect to have a working compiler front end by some time early next year.

Re:Syntax errors? (1)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373782)

M-x monkey-mode
M-x font-lock-mode

Re:Syntax errors? (1, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373822)

No, as is already clear to users of superior text editors, vi & vim, Emacs is always in monkey mode.

Re:Syntax errors? (1)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373878)

**TROLL DETECTED**

You have been spotted. Mission Failed.

Re:Syntax errors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374158)

OMGZ thankyou! I can rest safer now I know the /. detectives are on teh case!

Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373610)

Syntax. Semantics. Not same. Doh!

Re:Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373668)

but syntax determines meaning so what's your point?

Re:Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373974)

but syntax determines meaning so what's your point?

Do you want the point in terms of lat/long?

Re:Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (5, Informative)

mr_matticus (928346) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374540)

Actually, "meaning" isn't just limited to sense and reference (semantics).

Meaning, that is, syntactic meaning, is a key component of syntax. Without meaning, syntax can't exist.

Knowing that a repeating pattern has a logical definitional rule behind it is a key element of meaning. If I say the word "mine" to you, without syntax, you have no idea of the semantic meaning. Is it a verb? An object? A noun? If it is a noun, does it refer to the kind for digging or the kind for exploding? Syntax plays a huge role in meaning.

Consider that the monkeys have a semantic inventory of distinct sounds A , B, and C. Semantically, they have three concepts and no more--because they lack syntax. With a simple syntactic structure, the sounds get new meanings because sequence suddenly informs meaning.

Without syntax, words can only have one meaning. As the article argues and as the sentence describes, the fact that position changes the meaning of sounds is key evidence of the use of syntax in the language. If semantic meaning were unaffected by sequence, that would be evidence of the absence of syntax.

Semantics cannot be divorced from phonology and syntax in oral language. Phonological meaning plus syntactic meaning is fundamentally semantic meaning. More advanced languages have more complicated systems of context and idiom that add layers onto this. But the basic point remains that meaning is certainly an element of syntax.

Re:Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (1)

glarbl_blarbl (810253) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374644)

And then comes the fun part when we talk about the epistemology of monkeys! How do we know what the monkeys know? And what is the nature of their knowledge? How much can we teach them and how will that affect their language (such as it is)? Do they teach their kids or is it hard-wired?

Re:Meaning is not a key component of syntax. (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374846)

Without meaning, syntax can't exist.

Shouldn't that be the other way round?

Linux 2012: The Real Disaster (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373622)

ook? (3, Informative)

Suchetha (609968) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373632)

Ook! [lspace.org]

OOK! [dangermouse.net]

This is what linguists have been waiting for (5, Interesting)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373634)

There are so many people out there who have been pushing for "animals can speak!" and "we taught monkeys to use sign language!" And it's like, as a linguist, one has to pull out all sorts of jargon and details about why this isn't actual language.

Those scientists who have been studying animal language as a non-pseudoscience have been waiting for anyone to show SYNTAX in animal language. You have have 1 trillion different words in a language, and it has a finite range of expressions... meanwhile you can have 10 different words, that with the right syntax can generate an infinite range of expressions.

That's why I think this is so cool... a chance to really look at a real proto-syntax, because all human languages have a very strongly developed syntax.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373736)

Yes, it is indeed impressive. I work with people close to this research and they have identified all of the phonemes used in primate communication. They are, if you're interested,

MUP DA DOO DIDDA PO MO GUB BIDDA BE DAT TUM MUHFUGEN BIX NOOD!

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (4, Funny)

HeronBlademaster (1079477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373934)

Hey, that's my luggage combination!

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (-1, Flamebait)

ifchairscouldtalk (1031944) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373788)

... a chance to really look at a real proto-syntax, because all human languages have a very strongly developed syntax.

I must assume that you have never heard Dubya speaking.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (-1, Offtopic)

underqualified (1318035) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373914)

you can look it up using the google. it's on the internets. i can help you if you want.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (3, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373960)

I must assume that you have never heard Dubya speaking.

The war is over, you won, W is gone. Now GIVE IT A FUCKING REST ALREADY!!!!

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1)

ifchairscouldtalk (1031944) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374122)

The war is over, you won, W is gone. Now GIVE IT A FUCKING REST ALREADY!!!!

A little nervous, eh?
There was no war... As to the war against idiots, well, I like to quote De Gaulle on this: "Vaste programme, en effet."

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1)

emjay88 (1178161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374380)

There was no war...

I think you mean: "We have always been at war with East Asia"

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (2, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374386)

A little nervous, eh?

No, I'm sick and tired of the extended partisan hatred: Dems against Nixon, Reagan and W, Republicans against the Clintons (although it all seems to have shifted towards BHO).

The partisan vituperation against most sitting presidents in the past 40 years is also really frickin' old.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374590)

Gov. Ventura said politics is a lot like pro-wrestling.

The politicians come out and pretends to hate the other side, but 99% of it is determined in advance.

The crowd cheers their side, happy when the title belt goes to their guy, upset when the refs aren't paying attention when the other side cheats.

Afterward, regardless of any outcomes, all the politicians go out to the bar together after the show.

Problem is that as entertaining as it might be, it isn't a responsible way to govern a country.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374424)

Huh? What are we supposed to be nervous about, losing the election again? Stupid fucking liberals fucking up the country, that's something to worry about.

Most of us on the right just had this faint hope that after 8 years of nonstop whining [zombietime.com] the left might talk about something fucking else for a change.

So, though we figured Obama was going to be a complete fucking socialist, his whole hopenchange thing might mean liberals would stop whining about Bush.

No. Fuck no. Even The One can't make a single fucking speech without mentioning Bush. After all, he has not had a single successful initiative, domestic or foreign, in a full year. Even "Cash for Clunkers" has failed miserably. Since he can't take responsibility for anything he does, after 9 years of whining about Bush, you fucking liberals are going to keep whining about Bush for the next 3 years.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374452)

When monkeys speak, when the dittoheads finally accept their loss, when the neocons cease to clamor for citizenship verification in spite of clear evidence that our President IS a US citizen, when all those sacrificed upon the altar of corporate avarice are finally avenged, when the children who are homeless once again have a roof overhead and food to eat, when those honorable men and women in harm's way are FINALLY allowed to return home, when, once more, the rule of law is applied universally and not just to the benefit of the obscenely affluent, when no person should sell themselves into economic slavery simply for trying to exercise their God given inalienable right to LIFE ITSELF, then, and ONLY THEN, will the war truly be over.

Well, we have one out of eight....a good start.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374656)

Whether or not you found yourself in agreement with Bush and his administration's policies, we can all agree on one thing -- George W. Bush was not a good orator.

To be the *president*, he was especially bad at giving speeches and made so many (huge and funny) mistakes that if there is one president who goes in the history books as someone who couldn't give a proper speech to save the country, GWB would be it.

Winning war -- be it metaphorical or literal -- doesn't make his endless supply of silly speech screw ups go away.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (5, Insightful)

Internalist (928097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373868)

Those scientists who have been studying animal language as a non-pseudoscience have been waiting for anyone to show SYNTAX in animal language. You have have 1 trillion different words in a language, and it has a finite range of expressions... meanwhile you can have 10 different words, that with the right syntax can generate an infinite range of expressions.

While this is true, it's not clear to me that what's documented here is, in fact, syntax. The researcher in question (Zuberbühler) has written about this stuff before and has been much more cautious in attributing full-on linguistic properties (a search of LanguageLog will turn something up from 2006).

I'll reserve absolute judgment for when I get a chance to look at the actual paper, but this quote from NYT gives me pause: Two booms can be combined with a series of "krak-oos," with a meaning entirely different to that of either of its components. This is not (typically) how human language works...meaning is compositionally built up from bits of syntax, whereas what's described here looks more like idiom. In fact, it looks more like phonology (*maybe* morphology) to me...meaningless bits that can be put together to make meaningful bits.

What they need to do now is get a linguist in there so slice & dice the recordings, play them back to the monkeys in various reconstructed forms, and see how they react.

Also...

[...] a chance to really look at a real proto-syntax, because all human languages have a very strongly developed syntax

some would argue against the subordinate clause here (pointing at Piraha, for example), but I'm not one of those. However, it might be the case that this "syntax" has developed in parallel to human syntax from some common protolanguage (since these are monkeys and not even apes, we're talking REALLY far back), and so this may be relatively uninformative with respect to human syntax.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1)

potpie (706881) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373922)

I basically agree. What we are seeing here is probably indeed the rise of Language (capital L) in this species. However I think it's a far cry from seeing the development of SYNTAX. It seems to me that what these primates have is a certain number of vocal signs (like monosyllables), and the possibility to combine multiple signs to achieve a greater range of meaning (like multisyllabic words). But meaning, as has always been apparent, is NOT to be mistaken for syntax. I can flip you the bird and you understand exactly what I mean, but there's no syntax there.

It does seem to me that, now that this species has this leg up communication-wise, their development of Language might be growing exponentially. So it might not be long (relatively not that long, which means I have no idea how long) before they really do put two signs together and come up with a SYSTEMATIZED method for expressing themselves.

I second that... (1)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374026)

I'll reserve absolute judgment for when I get a chance to look at the actual paper, but this quote from NYT gives me pause: Two booms can be combined with a series of "krak-oos," with a meaning entirely different to that of either of its components. This is not (typically) how human language works...meaning is compositionally built up from bits of syntax, whereas what's described here looks more like idiom. In fact, it looks more like phonology (*maybe* morphology) to me...meaningless bits that can be put together to make meaningful bits.

I second [slashdot.org] that wholeheartedly. This was precisely my reaction. My, you must be a linguist.

Re:I second that... (1)

Internalist (928097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374108)

I am, as---one would guess from your linked comment---you seem to be.

Re:I second that... (5, Funny)

dziban303 (540095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374202)

Okay, okay, you're both linguists. But are you cunning?

Re:I second that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374554)

Very nicely played.
*golf glap*

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374072)

I don't know - a predator (danger that's out to get you) and danger from falling trees aren't entirely unrelated.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (2, Interesting)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374110)

I don't know - a predator (danger that's out to get you) and danger from falling trees aren't entirely unrelated.

But, to borrow a bit from another comment of mine, neither are disco and psycho , right? Lots of psychos go to discos, after all. [slashdot.org]

The point is that the "krak-oo" example is at best unclear as evidence of syntax. If you want to argue that there's human language-like syntax in monkey calls, you need to find a clearer example, and preferably one that leads to a combinatorial explosion, where n calls can be combined to yield something in the order of n^2 meanings in a predictable manner.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1)

xigxag (167441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374088)

I think the article is engaging in a bit of unfortunate hyperbole by using the term "entirely different." It seems to me that it is NOT entirely different, that in fact the key point is quite the opposite, although articulated in a muddled fashion. It seems to me that the main claim is that "krak" is a generalized term for danger or warning, and that by either duplicating it or adding "-oo" or sticking the whole thing in another phrase, you get different specific warnings.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374192)

What they need to do now is get a linguist in there so slice & dice the recordings, play them back to the monkeys in various reconstructed forms, and see how they react.

No no no.

Aphex Twin.

Is the word for "leopard" really "tree"? (4, Insightful)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374642)

I have an alternative hypothesis to the one presented in the summary. (Haven't RTFA, fwiw).

I propose that the word for "leopard" really is the word for "tree". Why?

Well, suppose the suffix "-oo" means "get up into", and the "come[s] over here" part refers to the trees, not the monkeys.

Observe that getting up in the trees is a good way to avoid leopards, and that when you yell "Timber!", it's because trees are coming your way. That way, what the monkeys say should still produce the same behaviour as with the summary's language, but the words seem to have more stable, consistent meanings.

If this were not the case, one might expect the monkeys to say "leopard + comes-over-here" and "tree + comes-over-here", or something similarly systematic.

Also, observe how (human) children apply simple and logical (but sometimes wrong) rules to construct sentence patterns; something like the thought "hey, the expression "you're going down" must mean that relative to you, I'm going up. Yeah! "I'm going up, you [word]!"". Key point being: simple rules, a consistent inverse relationship between up and down. Wouldn't it make sense that monkeys have a similarly simple and consistent language?

Note also that the monkeys signal different behaviours when they observe or suspect eagles and snakes. The word for "eagle" might really mean "duck and cover", and the word for "snake" might really mean "stand really still, on your toes, and look down", since that is how they handle these different kinds of predators.

It might also be more effective to say "get up in the trees" and "get up in the trees" versus "there's a leopard coming" and "there's a [different non-climber] coming"; that way, you can get away with a smaller vocabulary, a more restricted vocal apparatus (since you don't need many different sounds), etc. Just cheaper overall.

My cents tw-oo ;-)

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1, Insightful)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374676)

Protip: *Every* time you see anyone going “Humans are the only ones who can do this!“ or “We are the center of $something.”, without haven proven that to be true for a fact, you know you got an arrogant egocentric asshole in front of you, who is no better than a 19th century person going “We are the better race. Only we are real humans. The Earth is the center of the universe. Animals don't *really* think. They are just empty shells. Things without soul or feelings. Just as women, they don not *really* think like we do. And there are no other lifeforms elsewhere. That’s how special we are. $bullshit God $moreBullshit chosen $evenMoreBullshit”.

Re:This is what linguists have been waiting for (1)

simplerThanPossible (1056682) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374782)

I've been reading "The Language Instinct" (Pinker), and his thorough development of his theme is really striking: that language in humans is a biological feature similar, in that sense, to how we walk or digest food. We don't have to try or think about it; it's a free gift. I agree it would be cool to see a syntax, or proto-syntax, or just *some* step along the way. It would really emphasize that language is, partially, just a biological instinct.

I find it odd to think of monkeys having a "word" for different predators, because a predator-specific call isn't necessarily part of a language, which the term "word" implies.

BTW: I find the linguist claim of "infinite" range of expression to be disingenuous, because, while it's technically true, the *vast* majority of them are uninteresting, not useful, and not used. e.g. "I (really)* like ice-cream"; or "(I wonder why)* I wonder." (using regular expression syntax, where "*" means 0 to an infinite number of repetitions). In contrast, simply composing different words is extremely expressive: combining just two words squares the number of expressions; three words cubes it, and so on (v^n, where v is vocabulary size; ^ is "to the power of"; and n is the number of words in the expression). As an example, it's easy to find a phrase that is unique to a document (for a google search). It's not *infinite*, but it's huge, and the results are interesting, useful, and used.

Hey, you can recruit them (1)

christurkel (520220) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373664)

They'd make great Slashdot editors! hahahahahahaha!

Monkey talk (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373670)

>> The Campbell's monkey has a vocabulary with at least six types of basic call, but [...] they combine them and string them together to communicate new meanings.

Funny. Sounds just like a recently departed president.

ThrowChair (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373678)

The researchers plan to play back recordings to the monkeys to test their theories for syntax errors.

They played the Ballmer Monkey Dance back to them, and they all started flinging chairs, and then went out and bought Macs.
     

Monkey version of Timber (5, Funny)

Kebis (1396783) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373696)

The monkey version of "Timber!" is “Boom boom krak-oo krak-oo krak-oo". So, in monkey it's 8 sylables, and in English it's 2. No wonder humans became the dominant species, we had more time to get out of the way after the falling tree warning.

Re:Monkey version of Timber (5, Funny)

koxkoxkox (879667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374136)

"If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for Texas"

PNAS (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373712)

Haha, they said PNAS.

Re:PNAS (1)

JDeane (1402533) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374394)

I was praying I wasn't the only one who noticed that and got a cheap chuckle out of it.... lol

Backstage evolution pass? (1)

sick_em (1603731) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373714)

what seems the most interesting to me is that when you think about it, should the monkeys go on as they do, communication will become more complex. given a few thousand years and a very luckily unscathed civilization and habitat (ha...), does anyone else not find the idea of them eventually forming some semblance of civilization possible, and intriguing? personally i say seal the suckers off and go god complex on their asses, time to play some real life spore

Re:Backstage evolution pass? (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373740)

They already have?

Re:Backstage evolution pass? (2, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373990)

will become more complex. given a few thousand years

I think you're off by a few orders of magnitude.

Re:Backstage evolution pass? (1)

Garridan (597129) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374064)

does anyone else not find the idea of them eventually forming some semblance of civilization possible

I dunno, we've been studying humans for a few thousand years and still don't have any evidence that species evolved from primates can form a civilization...

You are hereby notified (4, Funny)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373722)

The monkeys' lawyers just served papers on the researchers for copyright violations and the making of unauthorized reproductions of the primates' intellectual property. Spokesape Lance Link said "The researchers have submitted my clients' calls to several funding agencies. This is clearly intent to distribute my clients' intellectual properties, and we will therefore be seeking compensatory and punitive damages of one billion bananas for each call infringed upon."

Re:You are hereby notified (1, Interesting)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374066)

Yes and now that monkeys are shown to have syntax, they are considered intelligent enough to have civil rights.

So along with intellectual property rights for Monkey-speak and Monkey-syntax they also want the right to vote, collect welfare and social security, hold a job, get married, buy cars and houses, run for public office (can't do any worse than the politicians he had in office for the past 30 years anyway, a monkey might be an improvement?), send their kids to public school, and also serve in the military (man those terrorists almost won, until we sent in the 268th Monkey Brigade after them, those terrorists couldn't crack their monkey code or figure out their monkey tactics and they took the terrorists by surprise and got the location of Osama bin Laden out of them using monkey logic and reason to interrogate them but not torture them). What until humankind learns that they are obsolete and now the monkeys are the one on top of evolution. Hey we might even splice their genes to have them talk and understand as humans do, or they might do it via evolution and natural selection. After all, what is the worst that can happen? [wikipedia.org]

Careful (5, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373786)

Violate Strunk and White just once and they'll fling shit at you.

Magic Disappearing Paywall (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373818)

All you have to do to get around the pay wall is have a referrer from google. Like say from here. [google.com]

Ok, and then we can... (4, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373826)

The researchers plan to play back recordings to the monkeys to test their theories for syntax errors.

Create a very long string of recordings of unrelated calls and play them back to check for buffer overflow errors...

Re:Ok, and then we can... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374260)

Create a very long string of recordings of unrelated calls and play them back to check for buffer overflow errors...

I don't really care to work that hard just to root a monkey.

Re:Ok, and then we can... (1, Funny)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374862)

... but when you do, at least use a condom. We don't need AIDS 2.0

But don't do that on your vax! (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374668)

But first, be sure to mount a scratch monkey! :)

http://edp.org/monkey.htm [edp.org]

Here's the paper (3, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373920)

Straight from PNAS instead of the NYT summary:
Chimpanzees modify recruitment screams as a function of audience composition [pnas.org]
The full text should be available to anyone in the US for free, AFAIK (and possibly to those outside the US as well). One thing you will notice on that page is that the NYT is around 2 months late summarizing that article, it was published online in PNAS back in October.

Re:Here's the paper (1)

Internalist (928097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374060)

Nope...same guy, but that's from 2 years ago...I'm still waiting for the new one to show up.

How can you test this well? (3, Insightful)

srothroc (733160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373940)

I can't help but feel that you'd have to continuously use new groups of monkeys from the same community, otherwise you'd risk teaching them what you THINK certain calls mean, and they'd begin responding in that fashion...

Haven't played back yet? (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373952)

"Dr. Zuberbühler said he planned to play back recordings of given calls to the Campbell's monkeys and to test from their reactions whether he had correctly decoded their messaging system."

They haven't done that, and yet got published in PNAS? While I don't work in animal communication, I'd have thought that would be required for any claim of having decoded messages.

Or possibly they didn't get published in PNAS - I can't find anything resembling this on the PNAS web site (I have paid-for access.)

One need only . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373954)

... read Slashdot and Fark to have know that monkeys have language. Not News.

It depends what one means by syntax... (4, Insightful)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30373956)

I'm sure there'll be a lot of enlightening commentary about this pretty soon, but my first reaction to it is that the example cited by TFA is not clearly syntactic, in the strictest linguistic sense. Look, for example, at this quote:

"Krak" is a call that warns of leopards in the vicinity. The monkeys gave it in response to real leopards and to model leopards or leopard growls broadcast by the researchers. The monkeys can vary the call by adding the suffix "-oo": "krak-oo" seems to be a general word for predator, but one given in a special context -- when monkeys hear but do not see a predator, or when they hear the alarm calls of another species known as the Diana monkey.

The "boom-boom" call invites other monkeys to come toward the male making the sound. Two booms can be combined with a series of "krak-oos," with a meaning entirely different to that of either of its components. "Boom boom krak-oo krak-oo krak-oo" is the monkey's version of "Timber!" -- it warns of falling trees.

So, the meaning we are told for "krak-oo" is not a clear function of the meanings of "krak" and "-oo." The second paragraph makes an even more problematic claim: "boom" and "krak-oo," combined together, means something completely different than the parts.

What's the problem with this? That one of the paradigmatic properties of syntactic constructions in human language is compositionality [wikipedia.org] , the principle that the meaning of an expression made of parts A and B is a function of the meanings of A and B themselves, and of the manner in which they are combined in the expression. So the meaning of Dog bites man is a function of the meanings of the words, and the way in which they are combined (so that it doesn't mean the same thing as Man bites dog).

This doesn't mean that there isn't no non-compositionality in human language, or even in syntax, but rather that compositionality is typical of syntax, and noncompositionality is typical of morphology [wikipedia.org] . There's in fact tons of noncompositionality in human language, but it's hard to argue that monkeys have a semblance of human language unless you can clearly argue that the meanings of the subparts of the complex calls combine compositionally.

Or perhaps an analogy will show the problem... (1)

Estanislao Martínez (203477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374020)

Quoting TFA again:

"Krak" is a call that warns of leopards in the vicinity. The monkeys gave it in response to real leopards and to model leopards or leopard growls broadcast by the researchers. The monkeys can vary the call by adding the suffix "-oo": "krak-oo" seems to be a general word for predator, but one given in a special context -- when monkeys hear but do not see a predator, or when they hear the alarm calls of another species known as the Diana monkey.

The "boom-boom" call invites other monkeys to come toward the male making the sound. Two booms can be combined with a series of "krak-oos," with a meaning entirely different to that of either of its components. "Boom boom krak-oo krak-oo krak-oo" is the monkey's version of "Timber!" -- it warns of falling trees.

Another way of expressing the problem I see with these examples: the researchers are looking at the individual calls "boom," "krak" and "-oo" as analogues of human language words or morphemes. However, if you look at them as analogues of syllables instead, then the argument looks much more flimsier. The English word disco shares a syllable with both disfluency and psycho, but that is not evidence of syntax or morphology; the meaning of disco is not a function of the meanings of dis and co.

Re:It depends what one means by syntax... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374126)

Its a newspaper article that might not show the whole story. I can easily imagine that "boom boom krak-oo" means: "come to me I hear a danger".

Very impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30373962)

"The Campbell's monkey has a vocabulary with at least six types of basic call"

Wow, that's three more than a Congressman.

Angry monkeys (2, Interesting)

nephridium (928664) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374052)

They want to play back intentionally malformed phrases? I guess they'll need to prepare to the Campbell monkeys' equivalent of "What did you just call my mother?" ;)

Re:Angry monkeys (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374698)

I imagined a scientist, talking to a monkey, going “My hovercraft is full of eels!”. ^^

Code Monkeys for real (-1, Troll)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374084)

teach Monkeys how to write computer code. I am sure they can do a better job at it than the average human being. The modern languages have built in garbage collection, removal of pointers, memory management, and other features built in because comp sci graduates couldn't understand how to do it. Now the computer languages are so easy to use a monkey can use them. That was how Steve Jobs made the Macintosh by making it so easy to use a monkey could use it, which we called them Chimp Boxes way back in 1984 to show that even monkeys can use them.

Re:Code Monkeys for real (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374168)

Your homepage is a Google Sites page. How's that working out for you, Professor Bobo?

Which monkeys? (2, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374102)

In humans language is something cultural, even syntax is something you learn from others, is not builtin. If is the same on monkeys maybe the ones from a region have a different syntax or semantics than others from far away.

Re: Which monkeys? (2, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374538)

In humans language is something cultural, even syntax is something you learn from others, is not builtin. If is the same on monkeys maybe the ones from a region have a different syntax or semantics than others from far away.

But the capability seems to be at least partly built-in.

The big debate is between the "speech is special" crowd, who think the built-in stuff is only good for language and only present in humans, vs. those who think language is to a big extent based on more general cognitive capabilities.

I'm in the latter group, so I find this utterly unsurprising. The discoveries of the past few decades should have disabused everyone by now of the notion that human cognition is of an utterly different caliber than animal cognition.

Still, there are those who will contest this report vehemently.

Chhk Chhk Chhk Ooo Ahk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374112)

Chhk Ahk Kaa Kaa Kaa Ha!

phew! (1)

weirdo557 (959623) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374114)

as long as its not monkeys with semtex

Stupid monkey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374156)

Fuck you.

Measurable results (2, Funny)

Pike (52876) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374164)

I guess they'll know they had a "syntax error" if the monkey fails to understand the warning and gets killed by the falling tree.

Monkeys with syntax (1)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374186)

Interesting... Except for the syntax thing, you'd have Slashdot editors.

Re:Monkeys with syntax (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374824)

Interesting... Except for the syntax thing, you'd have Slashdot editors.

Monkey see, Monkey dupe?

Someone has to say it (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374400)

Ook!

And be careful who you call monkey here.

US EPA Discovers ... Pinus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374718)

In an astonishing scientifically gripping squize of events, the US Environmental Protection Agency's Crack scientists discovered the find of the millnium ... Males have Pinus!

EPA Administrator, Ms Johnson said, "What dis I hear ... I wonts one ... Youze gotz a gizvs itsz to me ... I da Boz herz. Daz whuz spoz da dooz caiz I amz da ruz."

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