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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Andrea RAVIGNANI

Co-Auteur(s): Nina STOBBE, Ruth SONNWEBER, Piera FILIPPI, W.Tecumseh FITCH, Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Austria

Dependency sensitivity is not uniquely human: evidence from a New World primate

Abstract/Résumé: Human language and animal communication systems differ in several structural respects. One of these, the ability to process sensory stimuli with dependencies between elements located at arbitrary distance, is crucial in human language and cognition. However, other animal species may still be cognitively capable of perceiving dependencies without necessarily exhibiting a similar characteristic in their productive communication system. Here we show that the cognitive ability subserving perception of arbitrary-length dependencies is not uniquely human but present in another primate species, Saimiri sciureus. The monkeys we tested showed discrimination between auditory patterns containing a dependency and those lacking it. In doing so, the primates generalized to previously unheard pitch classes and dependency lengths. Therefore, the ability to recognize dependencies is likely to have characterized our last common ancestor with New World monkeys and have evolved before the emergence of language.