Apr 9, 2013

Scientists May Have Discovered The Missing Link Between Monkeys and Humans Speech

Gelada Baboon
Gelada Baboon
(Photo credit: pierre c. 38)
Scientists studying wild gelada baboons in the Ethiopian Highlands may have discovered the missing link between humans and primates, at least in the way we communicate.

Thore Bergman who is an assistant professor with the University of Michigan said that he thought he heard people talking at first, but what it ended up being was fairly sophisticated monkey chatter.

From The Register:

Researchers analysed the distinctive "lip-smacking" sounds made by wild gelada baboons of the Ethopian highlands and found striking similarities to human speech. 
"I would find myself frequently looking over my shoulder to see who was talking to me, but it was just the geladas," [Bergman] said. "It was unnerving to have primate vocalizations sound so much like human voices." 
Male geladas smack their lips to produce a distincive "wobble" in their calls to females. These sounds follow a similar tempo to human speech. 
Bergman suggested the research identified a "plausible" explanation of how human speech evolved. 
He said: “The ability to produce complex sounds might have come first. Then, when we could do that, we could attach meanings and communicate in more sophisticated ways. Or it could be that, as we needed to communicate more, we developed an ability to produce a greater variety of sounds.”
Apparently other monkeys smack their lips when eating, but the gelada's are the only ones that do it while communicating. Bergman also said that monkeys living in large groups have stronger vocal skills.

The full study can be read here: (Current Biology)

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