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Scientists are wondering why there are no talking monkeys as recent research has shown that some species should, in fact, have such an ability.
Talking monkeys may seem as a subject taken from a cartoon or a kids’ show. However, recent research went to contradict this opinion.
A study released last week, on Friday, revealed that Macaques should be able to speak. The research was carried out by a team of Princeton University scientists.
It was published in the Science Advances journal, under the following name. “Monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready”.
This new study may lead to another understanding of the evolution of humans. Previous theories believed that monkeys were unable to talk because of biological restrictions.
More exactly, they held that the animals lacked the vocal apparatus which gives humans their speech abilities.
However, the new study revealed that Macaques, a primate species, actually has such abilities. Previous studies concentrated on the shape, structure, or size of non-human primates’ vocal anatomy.
Situated in their heads, these were amongst the factors believed to be holding them back from oral communication. In testing these ideas, the team of scientists took to analyzing the vocal anatomy in itself.
The idea in itself is not new. Back in the 1960’s, a team of scientists led by Philip Lieberman performed a similar analysis. However, their research was based on a dead rhesus macaque.
Resulting computer models of its vocal motions showed that the animal was only capable of producing a limited vowel range.
Current study researchers decided to put that theory to the test. As such, they based their research on a live macaque.
The potential talking monkeys were captured whilst vocalizing, eating, and making faces. As the X-ray-based videos were used to make a computational model, its results differed.
Asif Ghazanfar, a study author and Princeton University neuroscientist, went to explain. Contrary to previous research, the current study went to show that monkeys do not have a limited sound range.
According to Ghazanfar, it may be quite on the contrary. A living macaque’s sound range was noticed to quite overlap that of humans.
The study goes to show that monkeys may actually have the necessary vocal tract so as to support a spoken language.
Marcus Perlman, a Netherlands-based Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics cognitive scientists, raised new questions.
Perlman, who was not involved in the study, pointed out the need to rethink our ancestors’ speech evolution.
As such, researchers are now suggesting that another factor, besides the vocal tract anatomy, was the determining factor.
One such option could be the neural anatomy, according to researchers. The aforementioned lead, Dr. Ghazanfar, is one such scientist.
The current as well as the previous study showed that primates have the necessary vocal anatomy needed so as to articulate vowels and consonants.
However, the new research suggests that they also lack an important element. The /i/ vowel anatomy, which is considered to be particularly specific to humans, seems to be lacking.
As Lieberman himself explains, humans could talk without the respective sound, but they would be hard to understand.
Current research seems to confirm and to strengthen previous studies. However, it also seems to add data to a newer theory. Talking monkeys may have been made impossible by just a few neural pathway limitations.
Image Source: Wikimedia