Orangutans crack consonants and vowels to shed new light on the evolution of human speech

January 9, 2015, Liverpool John Moores University
Source: wikipedia

Scientist still don’t know how human speech evolved from our great ape ancestors. But a study involving Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and the Pongo Foundation has uncovered new calls from orang-utans that show fundamental similarities with human spoken languages offering a potential origin point for speech evolution.

Appearing this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE the research shows that orang-utans, and perhaps other great apes as well, can learn to produce new calls which display similarities with human consonants and vowels.

The study was led by Adriano Lameira from the Pongo Foundation. He explained the findings:

“These calls were produced by quickly opening-and-closing the lips, much alike humans do when talking. One of these calls presented similarities with human consonants, and the other with human vowels, the two basic building blocks of human speech.

“Speech underlines every social and community structure in human society, yet the origin of all the world’s spoken languages remains a puzzle ever since the publication of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The major barrier for our understanding of the evolution of is the observation that great apes – our closest relatives – exhibit a very rigid use of their calls, and seem to lack the capacity to modify or learn new calls into their repertoire. This stands in stark contrast with human spoken languages, which are learned anew every generation, raising therefore critical questions about evolutionary continuity between our vocal repertoire and that of great apes. The new findings changes all of this as we can now see fundamental similarities.”

Co-researcher Professor Serge Wich from the LJMU School of Natural Sciences and Psychology said:

"This research highlights that studying orang-utan calls is very relevant to our understanding of the evolution of the production of . Orang-utans seem to have more capabilities to learn and produce calls than we assumed several years ago. This indicated how important studies are that examine calls in this relatively silent ape species."

Explore further: New hope for Borneo's orangutans despite threats of future climate change and deforestation

More information: "Speech-Like Rhythm in a Voiced and Voiceless Orangutan Call" PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116136

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not rated yet Jan 11, 2015
This is simply yet another example of naive conflation of vocalization with language.

Language, as opposed to communication, is most usefully defined as the import, export and external storage of imagination.

In this sense it is, in extant species, a unique and defining behavior of the human ape.

Our own most significant adaptations happen to derive from an unusually high level of innervation of the hands and vocal apparatus.

Both originating in the requirements for the hunter gatherer niche and particularly the substitution of the hands for food processing rather than the far more common snout.

The co-evolution of this remarkable expansion of the nervous system laying the ground for the extensive imagination transfer and storage facility that we call language. This being a complete game-changer. A feature which has uniquely enabled the evolution of technology.

See chapter 23 of "The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill".

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