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Open Access Commentary

Segmental structure in banded mongoose calls

W Tecumseh Fitch

Author Affiliations

Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, 14 Althanstrasse, A-1090 Vienna, Austria

BMC Biology 2012, 10:98  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-10-98

Published: 3 December 2012


In complex animal vocalizations, such as bird or whale song, a great variety of songs can be produced via rearrangements of a smaller set of 'syllables', known as 'phonological syntax' or 'phonocoding' However, food or alarm calls, which function as referential signals, were previously thought to lack such combinatorial structure. A new study of calls in the banded mongoose Mungos mungo provides the first evidence of phonocoding at the level of single calls. The first portion of the call provides cues to the identity of the caller, and the second part encodes its current activity. This provides the first example known in animals of something akin to the consonants and vowels of human speech.

See research article webcite