A law of word meaning in dolphin whistle types

Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Brenda McCowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

We show that dolphin whistle types tend to be used in specific behavioral contexts, which is consistent with the hypothesis that dolphin whistle have some sort of "meaning". Besides, in some cases, it can be shown that the behavioral context in which a whistle tends to occur or not occur is shared by different individuals, which is consistent with the hypothesis that dolphins are communicating through whistles. Furthermore, we show that the number of behavioral contexts significantly associated with a certain whistle type tends to grow with the frequency of the whistle type, a pattern that is reminiscent of a law of word meanings stating, as a tendency, that the higher the frequency of a word, the higher its number of meanings. Our findings indicate that the presence of Zipf's law in dolphin whistle types cannot be explained with enough detail by a simplistic die rolling experiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)688-701
Number of pages14
JournalEntropy
Volume11
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2009

Keywords

  • Communication
  • Dolphin whistles
  • Laws of language
  • Quantitative linguistics
  • Semantics
  • Zipf's law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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