Chimpanzees make sounds like human babies when learning to talk, study shows | Science and technology news


Young chimpanzees can make sounds similar to babies when learning to talk, researchers have found.

Primates studied by the University of Portsmouth were capable of the same vocal functional flexibility as humans as they grew up.

The team filmed 28 infant monkeys in a sanctuary in Zambia making sounds such as grunts, whines, laughs, screams, barks, squeaks and hoots.

They said the chimpanzees made calls that represented different moods, which correlated with positive, neutral or negative facial expressions or movements, similar to how babies learn to communicate.

Dr. Derry Taylor, from the University of Portsmouth’s department of psychology, said the findings could help shed light on the development of speech.

“All living things communicate, but only humans communicate using language,” he said.

“How this arose is an unsolved mystery in science. Until now, we had no early evidence for vocal functional flexibility in non-human primates.

“This discovery has profound implications for our understanding of the origins of human language.”

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Two baby chimpanzees
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Screaming, laughing and crying all have a clear purpose and emotions attached, experts say

After publishing their findings in the journal iScience, a university spokeswoman noted that as babies, “humans make sounds that have specific purposes”.

She added: “Screaming, laughing and crying, for example, all have a rigid purpose and clear emotions attached to them.

“But there are other speechless sounds, such as pre-babbling, that are more flexible in their function.

“New research has found that infants and young chimpanzees demonstrate similar vocal flexibility, implying that the basis of speech is rooted in our primate evolutionary heritage.”

The spokeswoman added that the findings “demonstrated a clear parallel with existing research in human infants”.

Another recent study suggested that we have even more in common with our primate ancestors, as humans’ rotating shoulders and extended elbows may have evolved as a natural braking system.

Early humans needed the movements that allow us to reach a high shelf or throw a ball to slow their descent out of trees so they could climb down without dying, researchers from Dartmouth College in the US found.


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