Quentin Gallot

Research interests

I am a PhD student of the Comparative Cognition lab supervised by Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler and a collaborator in the NCCR evolving language project.

Syntax can be defined as a set of principles by which meaning-bearing units (e.g., words in language) can be combined into well-formed complexes (e.g., phrases and sentences). It is one key component of human language. Its limitless expressive power requires permutation and rearrangement of abstract structures (termed phrases or sentences) above the word, often with concomitant changes in meaning. How this complex system of human syntax did evolve? This is an issue that has been of interest to researchers and well-studied in the recent years. The prevailing view is that the evolution of syntax was a gradual process, to the effect that its evolutionary history can be reconstructed by interspecies comparative evidence in primates. One of the toughest challenges is to explain the transition from non-hierarchical, 2-merge units in animal communication to generative, hierarchically structured, higher-order merges only characterize in human language. A number of hypotheses have been put forward, with no real consensus.

The aim of my research is to generate empirical evidence of combinatorial vocal systems in understudied monkey species in their natural habitat across the Taï National Park (Ivory Coast), especially the olive colobus (Procolobus verus). It will allow us to better understand how and why primate communication transitioned into that complex system of human syntax and develop a comprehensive evolutionary theory of syntax. I carry out observational studies and field experiments, using natural sound playbacks and visual predator model presentation, to assess the range of syntactic patterns and their flexibility in these species.


© Clémentine Bodin


Le Floch, A., Bouchard, A., Gallot, Q., & Zuberbühler, K. (2021). Lesser spot-nosed monkeys coordinate alarm call production with associated Campbell’s monkeys. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology75(8), 1-14.

Gallot, Q., & Gruber, T. (2019). Spontaneous use and modification of a feather as a tool in a captive common raven. Ethology125(10), 755-758.


PhD student



Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de Biologie
Cognition Comparée
Rue Emile-Argand 11
2000 Neuchâtel

Bureau B23, bâtiment G