Vocal and gestural sequences of several primates have been found to conform to two general principles of information compression: the compensation between the duration of a construct and that of its components (Menzerath-Altmann law) and an inverse relationship between signal duration and its occurrence (Zipf's law of abbreviation). Even though Zipf's law of brevity has been proposed as a universal in animal communication, evidence on non-human primate vocal behavior conformity to linguistic laws is still debated, and information on strepsirrhine primates is lacking. We analyzed the vocal behavior of the unique singing lemur species (Indri indri) to assess whether the song of the species shows evidence for compression. As roars have a chaotic structure that impedes the recognition of each individual utterance, and long notes are usually given by males, we focused on the core part of the song (i.e., the descending phrases, composed of two-six units). Our results indicate that indris' songs conform to Zipf's and Menzerath-Altmann linguistic laws. Indeed, shorter phrases are more likely to be included in the song, and units' duration decrease at the increase of the size of the phrases. We also found that, despite a sexual dimorphism in the duration of both units and phrases, these laws characterize sequences of both males and females. Overall, we provide the first evidence for a trade-off between signal duration and occurrence in the vocal behavior of a strepsirrhine species, suggesting that selective pressures for vocal compression are more ancestral than previously assumed within primates.

Linguistic laws of brevity: conformity in Indri indri

Valente, Daria;De Gregorio, Chiara;Favaro, Livio;Friard, Olivier;Miaretsoa, L.;Raimondi, Teresa;Torti, Valeria;Zanoli, Anna;Giacoma, Cristina;Gamba, Marco
2021-01-01

Abstract

Vocal and gestural sequences of several primates have been found to conform to two general principles of information compression: the compensation between the duration of a construct and that of its components (Menzerath-Altmann law) and an inverse relationship between signal duration and its occurrence (Zipf's law of abbreviation). Even though Zipf's law of brevity has been proposed as a universal in animal communication, evidence on non-human primate vocal behavior conformity to linguistic laws is still debated, and information on strepsirrhine primates is lacking. We analyzed the vocal behavior of the unique singing lemur species (Indri indri) to assess whether the song of the species shows evidence for compression. As roars have a chaotic structure that impedes the recognition of each individual utterance, and long notes are usually given by males, we focused on the core part of the song (i.e., the descending phrases, composed of two-six units). Our results indicate that indris' songs conform to Zipf's and Menzerath-Altmann linguistic laws. Indeed, shorter phrases are more likely to be included in the song, and units' duration decrease at the increase of the size of the phrases. We also found that, despite a sexual dimorphism in the duration of both units and phrases, these laws characterize sequences of both males and females. Overall, we provide the first evidence for a trade-off between signal duration and occurrence in the vocal behavior of a strepsirrhine species, suggesting that selective pressures for vocal compression are more ancestral than previously assumed within primates.
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Compression; Language evolution; Linguistic laws; Primates; Vocal communication
Valente, Daria; De Gregorio, Chiara; Favaro, Livio; Friard, Olivier; Miaretsoa, L.; Raimondi, Teresa; Ratsimbazafy, Jonah; Torti, Valeria; Zanoli, Anna; Giacoma, Cristina; Gamba, Marco
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/2318/1780301
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