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1.  Brevity is not always a virtue in primate communication 
Biology Letters  2010;7(1):23-25.
Semple et al. (Semple et al. in press, Biol. Lett. (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.1062)) argued that the ‘law of brevity’ (an inverse relationship between word length and frequency of use) applies not only to human language but also to vocal signalling in non-human primates, because coding efficiency is paramount in both situations. We analysed the frequency of use of signals of different duration in the vocal repertoires of two Neotropical primate species studied in the wild—the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) and the golden-backed uakari (Cacajao melanocephalus). 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 costs and benefits associated with signals of different duration must be appreciated to understand properly their frequency of use. Although relatively brief vocal signals may be favoured by natural selection in order to minimize energetic costs, the very briefest signals may be ambiguous, contain reduced information or be difficult to detect or locate, and may therefore be selected against. Analogies between human language and vocal communication in animals can be misleading as a basis for understanding frequency of use, because coding efficiency is not the only factor of importance in animal communication, and the costs and benefits associated with different signal durations will vary in a species-specific manner.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0455
PMCID: PMC3030868  PMID: 20573617
law of brevity; Neotropical primates; vocal repertoire; signalling

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