Maël Leroux

I am a PhD student in the Comparative Communication and Cognition Group lead by Simon Townsend at the University of Zurich. My research focuses on identifying and describing combinatorial structures in the vocal repertoire of our closest relative: the chimpanzee.

The emergence of combinatoriality in human language represents one of the key evolutionary transitions in life. This structural innovation freed language from the constraints of perceptual error and facilitated the evolution of an open-ended, limitless communication system. Despite its significance, we know very little regarding how unique this capacity is to humans or the evolutionary progression of this trait. By searching for core features of language, such as its combinatoriality, in the communication systems of closely related species to humans, particularly the apes, it is possible to shed light on whether they have their origins rooted in the primate lineage. 

With this project, we aim to shed light on how unique combinatorics is to human language through empirically investigating the presence of linguistic forms of phonology and syntax in the chimpanzee.


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