What can baboons tell us about the evolution of language? A multi-modal approach to intentionality and flexibility in animal communication.

Sarah Papworth (primary)
Biological Sciences
Royal Holloway
Alecia Carter (secondary)
University College London


Intentionality and flexibility have been claimed as hallmarks of human language. However, research on intentionality and flexibility in non-human animal communication is biased towards a few species and communication modalities, mainly towards great ape gestural communication. Thus, this project will establish operational criteria for analysing these traits in a wider range of species, by understanding wild chacma baboons’ gestural and vocal communication using machine learning software. Using baboons as a model, we will provide insights into how deeply rooted intentional and flexible communication is in the animal kingdom and when these cognitive traits central to human language might have evolved.


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Animal disease, health and welfare
Area of Biology
Techniques & Approaches
BioinformaticsEngineeringImage ProcessingMathematics / StatisticsSimulation / Modelling