Monkeys Know Bad Grammar When They Hear It

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It’s not like they’re gonna be writing for The New Yorker anytime soon, but a team of scientists just published a study in the journal Biology Letters saying that monkeys can “recognize bad grammar.

Researchers spent a day familiarizing a group of cotton-top tamarins with a series of two-syllable words that followed a certain pattern. The next day, they started playing recordings of new words, some that followed the same pattern and others that followed a different one. The monkeys “looked to the speaker” longer when the pattern was different.

Said lead author Dr. Ansgar Endress. “If they got used to, or bored by, the pattern, then they might be more interested in items that violate (it) – because they are something new – than in items that are consistent with the pattern.” (via Book Bench)


Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He is a Dornsife PhD Fellow at USC and been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →