Titi Semantics: Context and Meaning in Titi Monkey Call Sequences
Philippe Schlenker, Emmanuel Chemla, Cristiane Cäsar, Robin Ryder, Klaus Zuberbühler
April 2016

Cäsar et al. 2013 show that the structure of Titi monkey call sequences can, with just two call types (A and B), reflect information about predator type and predator location. Using the general methods of Schlenker et al. 2014, we ask what these facts show about the 'linguistic' structure of Titi calls. We first demonstrate that the simplest behavioral assumptions make it challenging to provide lexical specifications for A- and B-calls: B-calls rather clearly have the distribution of general alarm calls; but A-calls are also found in highly heterogeneous contexts (e.g. they are triggered by 'cat in the canopy' and 'raptor on the ground' situations). We discuss two possible solutions to the problem. One posits that entire sequences are endowed with meanings that are not compositionally derived from their individual parts (a related idea was proposed by Arnold and Zuberbühler to analyze pyow-hack sequences in Putty-nosed monkeys). The second analysis combines a very simple compositional analysis with some more sophisticated assumptions about the environmental context in which the calls are used; specifically, we argue that the B-call is a general alarm call, that the A-call is used for serious non-ground threats, and that they are combined by the simplest (conjunctive) rule; but their interaction with the context conspires to make it possible for call sequences to reflect information about predator nature and predator location. Published version: https://rdcu.be/6oOY
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/002411
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in Natural Language and Linguisitic Theory
keywords: primate linguistics, alarm calls, formal semantics, formal pragmatics, titi monkeys, primatology, semantics
previous versions: v7 [April 2016]
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