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Gibbons may talk like our ancient ancestors

Posted on Monday, 12 January, 2015 | Comment icon 11 comments

The vocalizations of gibbons are surprisingly familiar. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Matthias Kabel
Gibbons may communicate in a way that is similar to how early humans spoke millions of years ago.
From the clicks of bottlenose dolphins to the low-frequency rumblings of elephants, scientists have long struggled to interpret the myriad of vocalizations uttered throughout the animal kingdom.

While in some cases it is possible to determine what a particular sound means, such as when a dog barks or a cat purrs, there are few voices outside of our own species that sound anything remotely comparable to actual human language.

Now however researchers investigating the vocalizations of gibbons have discovered that these small primates appear to use words and linguistic structures that mirror those used by our own species.

"Language is a human affair," said study co-author Dr. Angela Dassow. "It transfers conceptual knowledge from speaker to listener and has extraordinarily generalisable descriptive powers."

"We reevaluate this distinction in the context of vocalisations of white-handed gibbons, demonstrating previously unrecognised complexity and structure in their vocalization."

As it turns out, today's gibbons communicate with sounds that are very similar to those that our distant ancestors would have used more than 1.8 million years ago.

"The bottom line would tentatively seem to be that language is far more universal than linguists believe," said study co-author Michael Coen.

Source: Independent | Comments (11)

Tags: Human, Speech, Gibbons

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Imaginarynumber1 on 12 January, 2015, 20:02
What I want to know is how anyone knows how people would have spoken 1.8 million years ago with certainty Bone placement
Comment icon #3 Posted by Nnicolette on 12 January, 2015, 20:09
I dont quite follow how that tells what thier language sounds like past the range of producable sounds
Comment icon #4 Posted by DieChecker on 12 January, 2015, 20:27
I say we give them fire and see what they do with it over the next million years.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Imaginarynumber1 on 12 January, 2015, 20:35
I dont quite follow how that tells what thier language sounds like past the range of producable sounds Based upon the craniodental morphology, size and shape of the hyoid bone, the curvature of the spine and the placement of the ribs, you can make a very good guess whether or not any past hominiods were capable of make sounds that approximate language. 1.8 mya you had some H. erectus, H. habilis, P boisei, P robustous, and maybe some Australopithecicines still left. While none of these could speak, they could probably make sounds to communicate with one another.
Comment icon #6 Posted by jarjarbinks on 13 January, 2015, 2:07
the one on the right looks like a guy from my school
Comment icon #7 Posted by TheDarkerSide on 13 January, 2015, 2:14
I say we give them fire and see what they do with it over the next million years. Yeah! I could wait it out...
Comment icon #8 Posted by bubblykiss on 13 January, 2015, 3:32
The only thing I want to hear Gibbons, or any other primate, discussing is which BBQ they want to be cooked with.
Comment icon #9 Posted by acute on 13 January, 2015, 3:59
Gibbons probably talk like most of my extended family.
Comment icon #10 Posted by highdesert50 on 13 January, 2015, 11:13
I would imagine that the development of communication skills would parallel something akin the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the base physiological level, communication would evolve to ensure survival and procreation. Communication could further develop for sustaining safety, belongingness, and esteem. As sophistication increases so would the associated communication leading to distinctive language differences but likely favoring adaptability and success of the species.
Comment icon #11 Posted by LimeGelatin on 14 January, 2015, 16:52
And in another couple of million years they'll be discussing how their ancient ancestors once used a language similar to the one they are using, and having serious discussions on how to avoid the destruction that the humans greed and ignorance lead to...

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