Combinatoriality and Compositionality in Communication, Skills, Tool Use, and Language

International Journal of Primatology (forthcoming)
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Combinatorial behavior involves combining different elements into larger aggregates with meaning. It is generally contrasted with compositionality, which involves the combining of meaningful elements into larger constituents whose meaning is derived from its component parts. Combinatoriality is commonly considered a capacity found in primates and other animals, whereas compositionality often is considered uniquely human. Questioning the validity of this claim, this multidisciplinary special issue of the International Journal of Primatology unites papers that each study aspects of combinatoriality and compositionality found in primate and bird communication systems, tool use, skills, and human language. The majority of authors conclude that compositionality is evolutionarily preceded by combinatoriality and that neither are uniquely human. This introduction briefly introduces readers to the major findings and issues raised by the contributors.

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