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On Evolution and the codifying properties of communication systems in primates

Abstract/Résumé: Hockett (1958, 1960, 1961) developed a list of linguistic features. In his works he noted that it could well be the case that all those features were found in other species. Some people think that this is indeed so. I’ll show that there is at least one exception. I will show that a particular feature, called duality of patterning, has still not been found in any other species than humans. However, I will also show that it is still possible to find it. There are two different reasons that lead me to such conclusion: 1- The notion of duality of patterning has been distorted many times during the last four decades, so that Hockett’s original notion is almost never applied. Once the concept is clarified, it is clear that it has been misrepresented. 2- Duality is a concept created under a very strong influence of Information Theory. Hockett was deeply interested in Information Theory, which served him as a source of inspiration and knowledge. The outcome of duality is a codified informative unit, called plereme. In principle, this unit is species-independent, and has two characteristics: 1- Pleremes can be externalized and decoded by a receiver. 2- A plereme encodes a minimal meaningful unit, by means of a combination of meaningless primitive units (called cenemes). While some codifying systems have duality, and hence pleremes, others do not. In the case of human language, the closest unit to a plereme is the morpheme. Therefore, Hockett stated that morphemes are linguistic pleremes, and that morphemes are the true minimal meaningful units of human language. Phonemes would be the equivalents to cenemes. I will review some primate communication systems, in particular that of putty-nosed monkeys (Cercopithecus nicticians), Campbell’s monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli) and vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops), which have been proposed as systems that could be structured by components which resemble human words to some extent. The analysis of their communication systems allows me to compare their externalized units to human morphemes. I will show that, although the data until now suggests that only modern humans have a codifying system with the feature of duality, it is still theoretically possible to find other species that also have duality, as a feature of their codifying systems. Campbell’s monkeys in particular are the best proponents to hold such a linguistic feature. References Hockett, Charles F. 1958. A Course in Modern Linguistics. New York: Macmillan. ———. 1960. The origin of speech . Scientific American 203 (setembre): 89–96. ———. 1961. Linguistic Elements and Their Relations. Language 37 (1): 29–53.