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first_img To the best of our knowledge, humans are the only animals on Earth that have developed complex language. But there’s been some decent evidence for quite some time that some of our evolutionary ancestors were also pretty good with words. Since that discovery, though, we’ve struggled to figure out why exactly monkeys can’t speak as we can.We thought, for a time, at least, that our closest relatives just don’t have the vocal range to match us. Often, primate vocalizations are jarring and high-pitched, not even remotely resembling the nuanced set of sounds that we use for even the simplest communication. But some new data suggests that might not be the case. A new study from professors at the University of Vienna and Princeton suggests that in reality, our primate siblings lack the right brain structures for complex speech. Lead author, William Tecumseh Sherman Fitch III, an evolutionary biologist, trained Emiliano, a macaque monkey to make various vocalizations while under X-ray observation. Looking over the video, the team were able to model how sounds are created in the macaque’s vocal tract.  “Essentially, we built up a model of all the possible things the monkey’s vocal anatomy could do,” Fitch told Science Magazine. From there, the team was able to work out what sounds, and specifically what vowels, Emiliano could make. Theoretically, the study says, he could produce vowels that are pretty close the classic AEIOU we see in many Western languages today. To prove that, researchers ran the monkey’s anatomy through a physical simulation and tried to see what it would sound like if it tried to say the phrase “Will you marry me?” Stunningly, the phrase was recognizable, albeit a little off sounding. That means that monkeys are, at least, anatomically capable of complex speech.So what gives?It seems that humans have much more precise control over the muscles and passages that we use to make speech. Monkeys and most other mammals (which are similarly well-equipped physically) just don’t have the ability to control their vocalizations well enough to form words, for example. “If a human brain were in control, “Fitch said,”they could talk.”That has some profound implications for evolutionary anthropology and could cause a shift in where researchers continue looking for the split between humans and our modern day cousins. Stay on target This Bird Came Back From the Dead—TwiceScientists Add Human Genes to Monkeys’ Brains in New Study last_img

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