Vocal Behavior

Speaking in parts

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Science  16 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6381, pp. 1228-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6381.1228-a

Marmoset phee calls occur in units, like human speech.

PHOTO: SAAD315/SHUTTERSTOCK

The complexity of human speech is an anomaly among primates, where calls have typically been thought of as stereotyped and not variable. Recent work has shown that there is more learning and control present in nonhuman primate vocalizations than previously believed, but adult calls have nevertheless seemed to be stable. Pomberger et al. interrupted calling marmosets with acoustic playbacks triggered by their own calls and found that the animals could extend their “phee” calls beyond normal lengths by restarting them rapidly after perturbation, but they could only alter their calls at periodic time points. These results suggest that the phee call is not one long stereotyped series, but rather is composed of small sequential segments, like human speech.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.070 (2018).

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