The use of words is in itself an art. They allow for proper communication among individuals, with each community having its own specificities. On a higher level, the same words might be used by different people, but designating different entities altogether. Monkeys might be like us in this respect: they have different dialects, and may use the same words but having different meanings.
Living creatures, at large, communicate with each other, specially so with those of their kind. Humans are the only ones having been endowed with the gift of speech: a power no other living creature has. But, this is restricted to language as we know it. It would be narrow-minded to think that other animals do not have languages of their own.
A new study has brought new insight to the subject of language amongst other creatures: on top of having language, monkeys might even be having distinct local dialects. The research focused on Cercopithecus campbelli, more commonly known as Campbell’s monkeys. Their ability to give off warning calls to their friends was scrutinised by the scientists which ultimately led to the discovery of the existence of monkey dialect.
The monkey dialogue
Conversations of monkeys from the Tai Forest located in the Ivory Coast were recorded by the researchers. Their ‘words’ were then ‘transcribed’.
It was found that they made use of different sounds to warn of different animals. To warn each other of the presence of an eagle, the monkeys let out the sound “hok”, while a leopard was referred to as “krak”.
They also relayed messages to one another about less dooming threats. For instance, they used the sound “krak-oo” for something to keep an eye on below – the suffiz “oo” was added.
It was later found that these code words were by no way universal in meaning: they actually took on different meanings for monkeys of other areas altogether.
Same words, different meanings
Monkeys of Sierra Leone were recorded to make the same sounds. On Tiwai Island where they lived, the main threat involved eagles. However, while the “hok” sound was heard, “krak” was also documented. The results were thus surprising to the authors, since no leopard resided on the island.
As a conclusion, the scientists said that “krak” “functions…as a general alarm call on Tiwai”.
Animals are like humans in so many ways, as though, pointing to the unicity behind their origin. Just like we have “localised meanings” for certain words, the monkeys also seemed to follow this rule of diversity.