Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1572-0373
  • E-ISSN: 1572-0381
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  • Combinatory rules and chunk structure in male Mueller’s gibbon songs

  • Author(s): Yoichi Inoue 1 , Waidi Sinun 2 , Shigeto Yosida 3  and Kazuo Okanoya 4
  • View Affiliations Hide Affiliations
    1 The School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo Laboratory for Biolinguistics, RIKEN Brain Science Institute
    2 Research and Development Division Yayasan Sabah Group
    3 Laboratory for Biolinguistics, RIKEN Brain Science Institute
    4 Cognition and Behavior Joint Research Laboratory, RIKEN Brain Science Institute Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo
  • Source: Interaction Studies, Volume 18, Issue 1, Jan 2017, p. 1 - 25
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/is.18.1.01ino
    • Version of Record published : 28 Jul 2017


Understanding whether the long and elaborate songs of male gibbons ( have syntax and hierarchical structures (chunks) is an interesting question in the evolution of language, because gibbons are near humans in the phylogenetic tree and a hierarchically organized syntax is considered to be a basic component of human language. We conducted field research at Danum Valley Conservation Area in northern Borneo to test the hypothesis that gibbon songs have syntax and chunks. We followed one Mueller’s gibbon group for 1 week in the dry and rainy seasons every year from 2001 to 2009, collecting vocal and behavioral data. Results show that songs emitted by the studied male gibbon were governed by combinatory rules. Some context-dependent songs had different combinatory rules, although they overlapped with the songs whose contexts were uncertain. The male Mueller’s songs had characteristics that suggest existence of chunk structure. These results provided an important perspective in the study of language origin.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): chunk; combinatory rule; Danum Valley Conservation Area; male song; Mueller’s gibbon

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