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Biol Lett. Aug 23, 2010; 6(4): 469–471.
Published online Jan 27, 2010. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.1062
PMCID: PMC2936212
Efficiency of coding in macaque vocal communication
Stuart Semple,1 Minna J. Hsu,2* and Govindasamy Agoramoorthy3
1Centre for Research in Evolutionary Anthropology, Roehampton University, Holybourne Avenue, London SW15 4JD, UK
2Department of Biological Sciences, National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Republic of China
3College of Environmental and Health Sciences, Tajen University, Pingtung, Taiwan, Republic of China
*Author for correspondence (hsumin/at/
Received December 21, 2009; Accepted January 6, 2010.
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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