Hear Monkeys Speak, Thanks to Science!

We can now hear the vocal sounds that monkeys would make, were they able to speak, as per the findings of a new study published in Science Advances.

The vocal anatomy of monkeys could allow them to produce sounds similar to those of humans (though they don’t actually speak like humans). Photo credits: Tecumseh Fitch, University of Vienna.

“Will You Marry Me?”, Said the Monkey

Monkeys and apes resemble us, humans, the most, among all other animals. Why can’t they speak like us, then? And if they did, what would they sound like, say if they could ask you to marry them?!

Finding out the cause behind their inability to speak

Researchers have long since believed that monkeys cannot learn new vocalisations because their anatomy would not allow it. Their vocal apparatus, comprising the larynx, the tongue, and the lips, had so far been considered to be inadequate to produce sounds like us.

However, this is not case, says the team of researchers behind the new findings; they were led by Tecumseh Fitch from the University of Vienna, and Princeton University’s Asif Ghazanfar. They analysed the vocal anatomical pathways of monkeys with x-rays. The scientists probed into the mouth, and then into the throat, of macaque monkeys which were induced to a variety of activities: to vocalise, eat, or make facial expressions. The results show that the structures are, actually, more flexible than more initially thought. Rather, the ‘problem’ is located elsewhere.

The Real Culprit: The Brain

The ‘deficiency’ is found in the brain—non-human primates cannot speak because of limitations situated in the brain, as opposed to being restricted to their vocal anatomy.

Hear The Monkeys Speak!

A computer model representing the monkey’s vocal tract was then built to ‘listen’ to the animals speak. We can now hear what they would sound like, were they to have a human brain. As a matter of fact, monkeys can produce a wide range of distinct words. Find out about the ‘words’ they would say (if they could speak) here [and, yes, they could ask one to marry them!].

From this, the researchers inferred that humans might have had a basic form of spoken language down on evolution’s distant lane, without the vocal anatomy being changed.

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