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Apes may be close to being able to speak

Posted on Saturday, 15 August, 2015 | Comment icon 25 comments

How close are other primates to mimicking human speech ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.6 Kabir
Scientists believe that apes may be closer to human-like speech than we have given them credit for.
It may sound like something from 'Planet of the Apes' but according to researchers who have worked extensively alongside a 40-year-old gorilla named Koko, the ability to produce controlled vocalizations like a human is something that primates may not be far from being able to achieve.

Postdoctoral researcher Marcus Perlman spent many years observing Koko's behavior, in particular her ability to exercise control over her vocalizations and breathing when interacting with humans.

Examples of this include blowing in to her hand when she wants a treat, breathing on a glass to indicate that she wants a clean one and even grunting while playing with a toy phone.

"She doesn't produce a pretty, periodic sound when she performs these behaviors, like we do when we speak," he said. "But she can control her larynx enough to produce a controlled grunting sound."

Perlman believes that Koko's behavior indicates that some of the abilities that enabled the evolution of speech in humans are also present in other primates.

"Koko bridges a gap," he said. "She shows the potential under the right environmental conditions for apes to develop quite a bit of flexible control over their vocal tract. "

Source: | Comments (25)

Tags: Apes, Primate, Speech

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #16 Posted by Ellapennella on 16 August, 2015, 4:10
Comment icon #17 Posted by cookemeister on 17 August, 2015, 11:53
may i suggest that if they do speak they will make a hell of a lot more sense that some people i fact even now that they dont speak they talk more sense ..
Comment icon #18 Posted by MJNYC on 17 August, 2015, 14:11
I followed Koko hoping it would make general public more aware just because creatures have different forms of communications it doesn't make them less consciously aware beings with emotion. The grey parrot in another study had a language advantage but even it was accused of just imitation and training when it created its own words and crude sentences. When I was in elementary school when bible study was still permitted. I had the same teacher say, animals have no souls or feelings. They are instinctive in reactions, they can only mimic or be trained. I said Aren't you just training us to do th... [More]
Comment icon #19 Posted by MJNYC on 17 August, 2015, 14:21
Kree-gah mangani! Tand bundolo Oprah! Thanks so much for sharing this. Fascinating. I hope when they do take over, they do a better job than we have.
Comment icon #20 Posted by grandfunkrailroad on 17 August, 2015, 16:42
Oh well back in the 70's when i was a kid living on Curacao, we had a chimp in te local zoo who begged for cigarettes, visitors would supply him with them and he was smoking them Marlboro's all day long, unfortunately he died of cancer somewhere during the beginning of the eighties!
Comment icon #21 Posted by White Unicorn on 17 August, 2015, 16:52
Wow, I was right with you until the surgery part. How would you like it if they wanted to make you more like them and performed surgery on you? You just got through saying they are "sentient", yet you want to do research on them. Sorry, but that's disgusting. Animal researchers perform a lot worse medical experiments then that, and Koko and offspring are studies. I wonder more Why it hasn't been done than supporting it. Most vocal cord augmentation and implants are not painful and the ones frustrated from lacking anatomy and trying perform the impossible seems less cruel to me. I'm weird becau... [More]
Comment icon #22 Posted by clare256 on 17 August, 2015, 16:58
So what does that imply about the Broca area of the brain?
Comment icon #23 Posted by Benfornow on 17 August, 2015, 21:09
Yes but how far in time: 2, 25 or 25,000 years or more?
Comment icon #24 Posted by Shiloh17 on 21 August, 2015, 2:31
I wonder what their first word will be? Hey, what's goin on bubba?
Comment icon #25 Posted by MJNYC on 21 August, 2015, 19:15
Animal researchers perform a lot worse medical experiments then that, and Koko and offspring are studies. I wonder more Why it hasn't been done than supporting it. Most vocal cord augmentation and implants are not painful and the ones frustrated from lacking anatomy and trying perform the impossible seems less cruel to me. I'm weird because I wouldn't support it unless ape handsigned it wanted to do something to help it talk! Same as they do for us human patients. Maybe I seem harsh not to think it would be so cruel because I've been a research subject that had several manipulative surgeries m... [More]

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