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Nature & Environment

Chimp lip-smacking hints at origin of speech

By T.K. Randall
May 27, 2020 · Comment icon 0 comments

Chimps engage in a primitive form of communication. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Thomas Lersch
A new study has revealed that chimp lip-smacking could be a clue to the ancient origins of human speech.
Exactly when and how the ability to speak first arose in humans has long remained something of a mystery, but now it seems that the behavior of chimpanzees - our closest living relatives - may offer important clues hinting at how our ancestors first began to form words.

It is well established that chimps smack their lips and move their jaws in fast-paced cycles to 'speak' with one another, but now a new study by the Universities of York, St Andrews and Warwick has revealed that they do so at a rate that is very similar to that of human speech.

Such behavior likely has "ancient roots within primate communication", the scientists argue, and could have played an important role in the evolution of our own vocal system.
"Our results prove that spoken language was pulled together within our ancestral lineage using 'ingredients' that were already available and in use by other primates and hominids," said study author Dr Adriano Lameira from the University of Warwick.

"This dispels much of the scientific enigma that language evolution has represented so far."

"We found pronounced differences in rhythm between chimpanzee populations, suggesting that these are not the automatic and stereotypical signals so often attributed to our ape cousins."

"Instead, just like in humans, we should start seriously considering that individual differences, social conventions and environmental factors may play a role in how chimpanzees engage 'in conversation' with one another."

Source: University of York | Comments (0)

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