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Infant 'Babbling' in a Nonhuman Primate: Complex Vocal Sequences with Repeated Call Types

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The pygmy marmoset is a small South American primate with a complex social system based on cooperative breeding. Infant pygmy marmosets are extremely vocal; most of their calling is a repetitive pattern of mixed call types that is babbling-like. In a longitudinal study of vocal development in 8 infant pygmy marmosets, we recorded more than 750 calling bouts which occurred in a wide range of behavioural contexts. The infants used 16 different call types that we grouped into three categories: Adult-Like (acoustic structure consistent with that of adult calls), Adult-Variant (acoustic structure with some adult features and some variable features), and Infant (absent from the adult repertoire). The calling bouts were highly conspicuous in their duration (ranging up to more than 6.5 min/bout), complexity (up to 10 different call types/bout), and call rate with nearly 3 calls/s. When the infants were older, their call rate slowed and they shifted to using several of the Adult-Like calls with greater frequency, and used fewer Adult-Variant types. The infants did not use the Adult-Like call types appropriately when compared to the typical adult usage of those types. Caregivers were significantly more likely to respond to an infant when it was vocalizing than when it was not.

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Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA;, Email:; 2: Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA; 3: Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA


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