Researchers discover human-like vowel sounds in baboons’ calls

Researchers discover human-like vowel sounds in baboons’ calls

The origin of human speech could reach back as many as 25 million years as researchers have discovered distinct human-like vowel sounds in the grunts and mating calls of non-human primates Guinea baboons.

Led by Grenoble Alpes University’s Dr. Louis-Jean Boe, a team of experts studied the acoustics of a total of 1,335 baboon sounds as well as the animals’ tongue anatomy.

They discovered formants, frequencies of sound representing vowels’ distinct characteristics, and found that the animals are also able to produce at least five different types of vowel-like sounds. In addition, they found that some muscles in baboon tongues are similar to that of human tongues that play a crucial role in enabling humans to produce vowel sounds.

Study authors wrote, “The evidence developed in this study does not support the hypothesis of the recent, sudden, and simultaneous appearance of language. It suggests that spoken languages evolved from ancient articulatory skills already present in our last common ancestor … about 25 million years ago.”

The researchers also noted that language is a key difference between humans and animals but the origin of humans’ speech remains one of the biggest mysteries of science.

The new study also cast doubt on the widely-accepted theory is that suggests that humans have a low larynx, while primates have a high larynx, and one can not produce distinct vowel sounds without low larynx.

The researchers reported their findings in the PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS).


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