Well-Formedness Criteria

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Users of human language both spoken and signed have an intuitive sense for what constitutes a well-formed utterance in their native language: combinations of segments adhere to certain standard patterns at all levels of linguistic analysis (phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic). When combinations of segments diverge from these internalized patterns, humans sense that something is wrong with the utterance, or that the person who produces it is not a native member of the language community, even if the message is successfully conveyed. There is some limited evidence for well-formedness criteria in the long call systems of gibbons and New World (titi) monkeys. Playback experiments of synthesized long calls with drastically altered transitional probabilities elicit the type of behavioral responses associated with intrusion of foreign males into familial territory. However, to date no playback experiments have tested whether alteration of only one or two transitional probabilities between long call elements elicits the same type of response. There is also some cross-species evidence for sensitivity to the well-formedness of combinations across the predator alarm call systems of Diana and Campbell's monkeys.

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