Gelada vocal sequences follow Menzerath’s linguistic law

  title={Gelada vocal sequences follow Menzerath’s linguistic law},
  author={Morgan L. Gustison and Stuart Semple and Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho and Thore J. Bergman},
  journal={Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences},
  pages={E2750 - E2758}
Significance Human language follows a variety of structural principles, known as linguistic laws. One of these, Menzerath’s law, states that, the larger the size of the construct (e.g., the size of a word in terms of syllable number), the smaller the size of the individual constituent parts (e.g., syllables). We show for the first time (to our knowledge) that Menzerath’s law also holds in the vocal communication of a nonhuman species. In the gelada (Theropithecus gelada), a primate living in… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

Can Menzerath’s law be a criterion of complexity in communication?
The anatomy of MAL for constructs being word tokens and constituents being syllables, measuring its length in graphemes indicates that Menzerath’s law—in terms of correlations—is a spurious observation, while complex patterns and efficiency dynamics should be rather attributed to specific forms of menzerath-Altmann's law.
Do penguins’ vocal sequences conform to linguistic laws?
The results provide the first evidence for conformity to Zipf's and Menzerath–Altmann Laws in the vocal sequences of a non-primate species, indicating that these laws can coexist with selection pressures specific to the species' ecology.
Adherence to Menzerath's Law is the exception (not the rule) in three duetting primate species
It is shown that adherence to Menzerath's Law is the exception rather than the rule in duetting primates, and it is possible that selection pressures for long-range signals that can travel effectively over large distances was stronger than that of compression in primate duets.
An exploration of Menzerath's law in wild mountain gorilla vocal sequences
The close-call sequences of mountain gorillas represent an intriguing example of a non-human vocal system that only partially conforms to the predictions of Menzerath's law.
Linguistic laws of brevity: conformity in Indri indri
The vocal behavior of the unique singing lemur species Indri indri is analyzed to assess whether the song of the species shows evidence for compression, and the results indicate that indris’ songs conform to Zipf’s and Menzerath–Altmann linguistic laws.
Linguistic laws are not the law in chimpanzee sexual solicitation gestures
Ape gesture does not appear to manifest a principle of compression or pressure for efficiency that has been previously proposed to be universal, and the same signals were shown to adhere to these laws when used in a different behavioural context; highlighting that signallers consider signalling efficiency broadly, and diverse factors play important roles in shaping investment in signal production.
Menzerath’s Law in the Syntax of Languages Compared with Random Sentences
This article first examines how well the Menzerath property applies across languages by using the entire Universal Dependency dataset ver. 2.3, including 76 languages over 129 corpora and the Penn Treebank (PTB), and investigates this property syntactically, finding that the property is almost reproducible even from simple random data.
The Menzerath–Altmann Law: Experimenting with Tatar Texts
  • A. Galieva
  • Linguistics
    Uchenye Zapiski Kazanskogo Universiteta. Seriya Gumanitarnye Nauki
  • 2021
The Menzerath–Altmann law on the relationship between the length of linguistic units and the length of their components is one of the important laws of quantitative linguistics. This law is a result
Emergence of linguistic laws in human voice
The method has been applied to sixteen different human languages, recovering successfully some well-known laws of human communication at timescales even below the phoneme and finding yet another link between complexity and criticality in a biological system.


The myth of language universals: language diversity and its importance for cognitive science.
This target article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once the authors honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world's 6,000 to 8,000 languages.
The Parameters of the Menzerath-Altmann Law in Genomes
The functional dependency between mean chromosome size and chromosome number in groups of organisms from three different kingdoms is studied and it is shown that an exponent of −1 is unlikely for fungi, gymnosperm plants, insects, reptiles, ray-finned fishes and amphibians.
Menzerath's law at the gene-exon level in the human genome
Using the human gene data, it is found that the Menzerath's law at these levels holds true: the more number of exons in a gene, the shorted the averaged exon size.
The challenges of statistical patterns of language: The case of Menzerath's law in genomes
The wide range of manifestations of the law in and outside genomes suggests that the striking similarities between non-coding DNA and certain linguistics units could be anecdotal for understanding the recurrence of that statistical law.
Compression as a Universal Principle of Animal Behavior
It is shown that minimizing the expected code length implies that the length of a word cannot increase as its frequency increases, which means that the mean code length or duration is significantly small in human language, and also in the behavior of other species in all cases where agreement with the law of brevity has been found.
Efficiency of coding in macaque vocal communication
It is shown that the vocal repertoire of the Formosan macaque (Macaca cyclopis) conforms to the pattern predicted by the law of brevity, with an inverse relationship found between call duration and rate of utterance.
Bonobos Extract Meaning from Call Sequences
These results provide the first empirical evidence that bonobos are able to extract information about external events by attending to vocal sequences of other individuals and highlight the importance of call combinations in their natural communication system.
Brevity is not always a virtue in primate communication
Analysis of the frequency of use of signals of different duration in the vocal repertoires of two Neotropical primate species studied in the wild found the key prediction of the law of brevity was not supported in either species: although the most frequently emitted calls were relatively brief, they were not the shortest signals in the repertoire.
The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain
The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence W. Deacon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997, 527 pp. Reviewed by Donald Favareau University of California, Los Angeles In 866,
Animal vocal sequences: not the Markov chains we thought they were
It is suggested that non-Markovian vocal sequences may be more common than Markov sequences, which must be taken into account when evaluating alternative hypotheses for the evolution of signalling complexity, and perhaps human language origins.