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Biol Lett. 2010 August 23; 6(4): 469–471.
Published online 2010 January 27. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.1062
PMCID: PMC2936212

Efficiency of coding in macaque vocal communication


A key characteristic of human language efficiency is that more frequently used words tend to be shorter in length—the ‘law of brevity’. To date, no test of this relationship between frequency of use and length has been carried out on non-human animal vocal communication. We show here 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. This finding provides evidence for coding efficiency in the vocal communication system of this species, and indicates commonality in the basic structure of the coding system between human language and vocal communication in this non-human primate.

Keywords: Formosan macaque, communication, language, coding, primate

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