Apes talk like babies?: Bonobos Talk Like Babies

Published: August 5, 2015

Apes talk like babies?: Bonobos Talk Like Babies, They are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing 98 per cent of their DNA with humans, but bonobos may share more with our species than was believed possible – a common ‘language’.

Researchers have discovered bonobos living in the wild communicate with each other in much the same way as human infants.

They use high-pitched calls known as peeps, which can be adapted to a range of different situations and to convey emotional states. Scientists say these are similar to the babbles produced by babies.

The findings could provide valuable new insights into how humans developed the ability the use language to communicate in the first place.

The short, high pitched peeps produced by bonobos may be similar to the first attempts by our early ancestors to communicate within their own groups.

Humans like to think of themselves as the peak of the evolutionary tree, honed by millions of years of evolution that sets us apart from our closest animal cousins.

But new research now suggests one part of our body – our hands – is actually more primitive than those of chimpanzees.

Analysis of the anatomy of the hands of living and extinct apes has revealed that human hands have actually evolved little since we shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees.

Chimps by contrast have developed elongated fingers to help make them better suited to life in the trees.

Human hands have retained their relatively long thumbs in relation to their index fingers, making them much more similar to the appendages of gorillas.

The new findings, however, suggest the proportions of the human hand appears to have been in place long before we separated from chimpanzees and bonobos, from the genus Pan, around five million years ago.

The researchers looked at the acoustic structure of the peeps produced by bonobos living in the jungle of the Congo and found they identical when used in a variety of positive and neutral situations like feeding, travelling, resting and grooming.

It means the great apes are instead interpreting the calls based on the contexts in which they were made, which requires them to make intelligent inferences about the meaning.

This echoes the way human babies produce protophone sounds, such as the babble-like grunts they make before they start using recognisable words. It is thought to be a key step towards learning to speak.

These differ from other common noises like laughter and crying as they are used independently of the emotional state and context.

Dr Zanna Clay, a primatologist and psychologist at the University of Birmingham who led the study, said: ‘When I studied the bonobos in their native setting in Congo, I was struck by how frequent their peeps were, and how many different contexts they produce them in.

‘It became apparent that because we couldn’t always differentiate between peeps, we needed understand the context to get to the root of their communication.

‘It appears that the more we look, the more similarity we find between animals and humans.’

Many animals produce calls that are only used in certain contexts.

Bonobos Talk Like Babies


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