Cognition in the Vocal Communications of Humans and Nonhuman Primates

Essay 2: Cognition in the Vocal Communications of Humans and Nonhuman Primates

General instruction
One of the key questions in the study of human language is what aspect of language is uniquely human and what is shared by communication systems of other non-human primate species. This is a difficult question, on which there is no consensus in the scientific community to this day. In this essay, you will address this question by focusing on the cognitive aspects of communication. Specifically, you will consider whether vocal communications of nonhuman primates show the following three characteristics of human language:

(1) referentiality,

(2) flexibility, and


After a brief introductory paragraph, your first body paragraph should explain, based on our lectures and the article “Primate Vocal Communication: A Useful Tool for Understanding Human Speech and Language Evolution?” by Fedurek and Slocombe (2011), how humans use referential signals, can flexibly control vocal signals depending on social situations, and can do so intentionally.1
In subsequent body paragraphs, examine whether nonhuman primates also share these characteristics. In each paragraph, make sure to (1) briefly explain the criteria used in primate studies for each characteristic; and (2) succinctly describe one experimental study that tests this aspect.2 In doing so, be sure to present facts (e.g., subjects, procedure, and results) first, then present the researcher’s interpretation of the results.

On the topic of intentionality, present two competing interpretations.

In the final concluding paragraph, briefly summarize current consensus and points of debate. Then offer a brief discussion of your response to the debate and/or your suggestion for the future research (e.g., your own response to the question regarding theory of mind in nonhuman primate species, weaknesses in the methods used in the current studies, different ways to study primate cognition,etc.).
Use lecture notes and readings as sources of information. To earn full credit, you need to use at least two articles from the Required Readings and one external source (Fedurek & Slocombe, 2011), which is available from SJSU library catalog)) for new pieces of information not presented in lecture notes.
These sources need to be cited to avoid plagiarism.
All other instructions such as the length requirement, manuscript format, citation style, etc. are the same as Essay 1.
1 You can see the following sections of Fedurek & Slocombe (2011) for their explanations of these ideas:
• Referentiality: Fedurek & Slocombe (p.156)
• Flexibility: Fedurek & Slocombe (p. 162 “audienceeffect”)
• Intentionality: Fedurek & Slocombe (p.1610
2 You can use one of the following studies to address each topic. (Required readings are boldfaced):
• Referentiality: Seyfarth et al. (1980) or Hauser & Marler(1993a).
• Flexibility (in a form of “audience effect”): Cheney & Seyfarth (1985) or Hauser & Marler(1993b)
• Intentionality (theory of mind): studies presented in Pearce(2008).
List of UsefulSources
• Cheney & Seyfarth (1985). Vervet monkey alarm calls: Manipulation through shared information?— Optional reading 1 inCanvas
• Fedurek & Slocombe (2011). Primate vocal communication: A useful tool for understanding human speech and language evolution? — pdf available from SJSUlibrary
• Hauser & Marler (1993). Food-associated calls in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): I. Socioecological factors. — Optional reading 2 inCanvas
• Hauser & Marler (1993). Food-associated calls in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): II. Costs and benefits of call production and suppression. — in CoursePacket
• Pearce (2008). Animal learning and cognition: An introduction (pp. 312-325). — in Course Packet
• Seyfarth et al. (1980). Monkey responses to three different alarm calls: Evidence of predator classification and semantic communication. — in Course Packet

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