Snake-skin on fishing line revealed rudimentary language and syntax in wild chimpanzees through alarm call combinations in Uganda.
University of Zurich researchers discovered two chimp call types: waa-barks for assistance and alarm-huus for shocks.
To test chimp behavior, researchers pranked them with a fake snake made of python skin on a fishing line, observing that the chimps combined calls and the type of combination affected others' response.
Researchers observed that chimps responded strongly when a waa-bark followed by an alarm-huus combination was played, indicating the criticality of communication in protecting against potentially fatal snake threats.
The observed strong response to specific call combinations in wild chimps suggests parallels with compositional syntactic structures in human language, indicating the potential existence of language-like qualities.
The results suggest that the chimps derived a specific meaning, related to recruitment to a threat, from the combined information encoded in the call combination, rather than responding to each call independently.
Chimp study suggests call combinations indicate ancient foundations of syntax, potentially present in the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.