How to Speak Monkey

Do you have any special food call? A special ice cream call? Or a banana call?

Playing with language can we fun as well as a serious business. Watching the TED-Ed video by Anne Savage provided us with plenty of inspiration for pondering about how we communicate. A think dive into communication from a different angle.

The small New World cotton-top tamarin is a very vocal monkey. It is easy to recognise this monkey by the white hair that spans its head flowing down past the neck. Communication between cotton-top tamarins is sophisticated and shows evidence of grammatical structure.Researchers have identified 38 distinct and grammatically structured calls that the tamarins use.

The cotton-top tamarin uses a range of calls from birdlike whistles, soft chirping sounds, high-pitched trilling, and staccato calls. The tamarin has special food calls and food retrieval and eating calls. In the video Anne teaches a few of these chirps and whistles. Shakira the tamarin signals to her family, talks to her food and warns against potential predators.

  • Why not make your own list of calls?
  • What kind of things is it important for humans to communicate?
  • You can also ponder over if any other animals make any special calls?
  • And of course you need to try out your calls.
  • Calls inspired by cotton-top tamarins are great to imitate!

Do not forget to record your calls:-)


“Punk monkey at Zoo Schwerin” by Harald Hoyer

P.S. I have made a Facebook page devoted to Biomimicry for Young Children. I hope you will find more inspiration from the natural world there.


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