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Baboons Can Make Five Human-Like Vowel Sounds, Reveals Study

The evolution of human language has been unscripted in our history. With time, we have taken our spoken words which have great significance for granted.

Although the construction of language was undocumented, the evolution of human speech can be easily traced through our related and living non-human primates.

A recent study conducted by Louis-Jean Boë of Grenoble Alpes University, France, and colleagues, published on Jan.11, 2017 concluded that baboons can make five vowel-like sounds similar to the ones spoken by humans.

The study published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, supports another study which concluded that Japanese Macaques are also anatomically capable of speech.

“It perfectly complements our own results,” says William Tecumseh Fitch, an evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna. Fitch was also the lead author of the Macaque study.

It was earlier believed that to be capable of human speech, one requires a low larynx whereas the high larynx in the non-human primates prevents them from producing human-like vowel sounds. This theory has also led to the claim that the origin of language is quite recent i.e. 70,000 to 10, 000 years ago.

Recently, scientists and researchers have started to explore more into the theory which led to the study conducted by Louis-Jean Boë and colleagues.  

In the latest study entitled Evidence of a Vocalic Proto-System in the Baboon (Papio papio) Suggests Pre-Hominin Speech Precursors, the researchers recorded and analyzed vocalizations of 15 guinea baboons or the Papio papio for a period of almost 1 year (from September 2012 to June 2013). The baboons produced the sounds under different social events and different stimuli taking place naturally within their external habitat.

Out of all the recorded sounds a total of 1335 vocalizations were selected and analyzed. Subsequent to the observation, it was concluded that the baboons produced sounds similar to human sounding vowels. 

“Examining the vocalisations through acoustic analyses, tongue anatomy and modelling of acoustic potential, we found that baboons produce sounds sharing the f1/f2 formant [sound frequencies] structure of the human vowels,” the researchers concluded.

Why The Study Was Taken Up

The study was taken up due to many recent observations and incidents challenging the common theory of necessity of low larynx to speak human language.

Human babies produce the same vowel-like sounds despite the fact that their larynx is still high. The study also states that production of human like sounds does not really depend on the larynx but on the control of tongue muscles and the movement of lips.

With this new study proving that our non-human relatives have the anatomical features required for human speech, the origin of it can go back to at least 25 million years ago.

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(Via TechTimes)