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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1993 Jun;122(2):184-94.

Responses to anomalous gestural sequences by a language-trained dolphin: evidence for processing of semantic relations and syntactic information.

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Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Honolulu 96814.


This study examined the responses of a bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) to "normal" (semantically and syntactically correct) sequences of gestures and to anomalous sequences given within an artificial gestural language highly familiar to the animal. Anomalous sequences violated the semantic rules or syntactic constraints of the language. The dolphin discriminated anomalous from normal sequences in that rejections (refusals to respond) occurred to some anomalous sequences but never to normal sequences. Rejections rarely occurred, however, if the anomalous sequence contained a subset of gestures that would comprise a normal unit if joined together. Such units were typically perceived by the dolphin and responded to even if they consisted of gestures that were not sequentially adjacent. All semantic elements of a sequence were processed by the dolphin in relation to other elements before the dolphin organized its final response. The results show the importance of both semantic properties and semantic relations of the referents of the gestures and of syntactic (ordering) constraints in the dolphin's interpretations of the anomalies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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