Centre-embedded structures are a by-product of associative learning and working memory constraints: Evidence from baboons (Papio Papio)


  • Rey Arnaud
  • Perruchet Pierre
  • Fagot Joël

document type



Influential theories have claimed that the ability for recursion forms the computational core of human language faculty distinguishing our communication system from that of other animals (Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2002). In the present study, we consider an alternative view on recursion by studying the contribution of associative and working memory processes. After an intensive paired-associate training with visual shapes, we observed that baboons spontaneously ordered their responses in keeping with a recursive, centre-embedded structure. This result suggests that the human ability for recursion might partly if not entirely originate from fundamental processing constraints already present in nonhuman primates and that the critical distinction between animal communication and human language should more likely be found in working memory capacities than in an ability to produce recursive structures per se. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

more information