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From monkey alarm calls to human language: How simulations can fill the gap


De Ruiter,  Jan Peter
Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Sciences, University of Bielefeld, Germany;
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society, Nijmegen, NL;

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Noble, J., De Ruiter, J. P., & Arnold, K. (2010). From monkey alarm calls to human language: How simulations can fill the gap. Adaptive Behavior, 18, 66-82. doi:10.1177/1059712309350974.

Observations of alarm calling behavior in putty-nosed monkeys are suggestive of a link with human language evolution. However, as is often the case in studies of animal behavior and cognition, competing theories are underdetermined by the available data. We argue that computational modeling, and in particular the use of individual-based simulations, is an effective way to reduce the size of the pool of candidate explanations. Simulation achieves this both through the classification of evolutionary trajectories as either plausible or implausible, and by putting lower bounds on the cognitive complexity required to perform particular behaviors. A case is made for using both of these strategies to understand the extent to which the alarm calls of putty-nosed monkeys are likely to be a good model for human language evolution.