Greg Urban Arthur Hobson Quinn Professor of Anthropology
     
 
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Metasignaling and Language Origins

This is a companion page to the paper
"Metasignaling and Language Origins"
by Greg Urban
American Anthropologist Vol. 104, No. 1, pp. 233-246. 2002.
The page contains samples of the vocalizations
used in the analysis presented therein.

Note: All examples are in QuickTime (.mov) form.
You can listen to them if you have QuickTime
installed on your computer. Examples 2.A-C
include video as well as audio. Click the links
to hear the examples.

1. Ritual lamentation

Example 1.A.:   96K
Ritual lamentation from Brazil. This example was recorded in 1975 at the indigenous reserve located near the town of Ibirama in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. For a description of this community, see Greg Urban, Metaphysical Community: The Interplay of the Senses and the Intellect, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

2. English words spoken spoken by the chimp, Vicki

Note: These short (a few seconds each) video
clips are excerpted from the longer film, entitled:
"Vocalization and Speech in Chimpanzees,"
produced by K.J. and C. Hayes (©1950
K.J. and C. Hayes). The film is avaliable in
video form from:

Media Sales
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802
(800) 770-2111

The clips here are intended for educational and research purposes only.

Example 2.A.:   248K

The word "cup" produced by a two-and-one-half year old female chimp. The opening sound is not a full [k] but something more like a voiceless velar fricative sound [x]. The vowel sound is apparently appropriately articulated as a central low mid sound, but it is produced without voice. The final consonant is [p]-like lip smack, that appears to be imploded, as in a kiss sound. Nevertheless, if you try the experiment of asking native speakers of English to decide which of three words ("papa," "mama," and "cup") Vicki's sound most closely approximates, they will regularly choose the word "cup."

Example 2.B.:   72K

The word "mama" produced by a two-and-one-half year old female chimp. The opening sound is apparently a bilabially obstructed nasal consonant, in this sense precisely like the English [m] sound. However, unlike the [m] sound, it is voiceless; the vocal cords do not vibrate during its production. This voiceless [m] is apparently released just like the English [m]. You can observe this on the video clip by noticing that Vicki's mouth opens after articulating the [m]. What follows is a raspy, fricative like vowel, something like the English [a], though perhaps produced as a low-mid rather than low central vowel. The key difference from the English vowel is, again, the absence of voicing.

Another feature of this word, in comparison with the word "cup," is syllable repetition. There are clearly distinct syllables here, and the repetition helps to identify this as "mama" as opposed to "cup," where there is no syllable repetition.

If you again try the experiment of asking native speakers of English to decide which of three words ("papa," "mama," and "cup") Vicki's sound most closely approximates, they will regularly choose the word "mama."

Example 2.C.:   164K

The word "papa" produced by a two-and-one-half year old female chimp. The opening sound is a [p]-like lip smack, that appears to be imploded, as in a kiss sound. The sound is appropriately voiceless. There is no detectable vowel sound after the articulation of this lip smack, but, as in the case of Vicki's "mama," syllable repetition helps to identify the word as "papa" -- although the lip smack/syllable repetition actually occurs three times in the one instance instead of two. Additionally, the lip smack itself reminds hearers of an English [p]. This makes the word readily distinguishable from Vicki's "mama," with its voiceless nasal [m]'s.

The experiment of asking native speakers of English to decide which of three words ("papa," "mama," and "cup") Vicki's sound most closely approximates yields the expected word "papa."

3. Linguistics sounds produced by child in the earliest phase of language acquisiton

Example 3.A.:   52K

[m] produced within a cry by a child at age 7 months and 9 days. Note the occurrence of the [m], and, indeed, the word [mama], within a cry. Note the intonation and amplitude of the cries in which the sounds are produced.

     
       

Contact:
Greg Urban, Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 325 University Museum,
3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104  |  Phone: 215.898.0895  |  Email: gurban@sas.upenn.edu