In situ image of the recorded baboons © Caralyn Kemp and Julie Gullstrand / Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology (CNRS/AMU).
In situ image of the recorded baboons © Caralyn Kemp and Julie Gullstrand / Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology (CNRS/AMU).
Science and technology
Article
This is what has been demonstrated by an international team coordinated by researchers from the Gipsa-Lab, the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology and the Laboratory of Anatomy at the University of Montpellier, using acoustic analyses of vocalizations.
Using acoustic analyses of vocalizations coupled with an anatomical study of the tongue muscles and the modeling of the acoustic potential of the vocal tract in monkeys, researchers from the Gipsa-Lab (CNRS/Grenoble INP/Grenoble Alpes University), the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology (CNRS/AMU), and the Laboratory of Anatomy at the University of Montpellier, have discovered that Baboons produce vocalizations comparable to vowels. Published in PLOS ONE on January 11, 2017, the data confirm that baboons are capable of producing at least five vocalizations with the properties of vowels, in spite of their high larynx, and that they are capable of combining them when they communicate with their partners. The vocalizations of baboons thus point to a system of speech among non-human primates.

Language: a distinctive characteristic of the human species

The question of its origins and how it evolved is one of the most intractable in all science. One of the dominant theories in this field associates the possibility of producing differentiated sounds, the basis of spoken communication, with the “descent of the larynx” observed over the course of the evolution of Homo sapiens. This theory argues that human speech requires a low larynx (in relation to the cervical vertebrae) and that a high larynx, as found in baboons (Papio papio), prevents the production of a system of vocalizations analogous to the vowel system that exists in all languages.

According to this theory, only humans over the age of one can produce differentiated sounds, whereas babies, Neanderthal man and all species of monkey are incapable of doing so because their larynx is positioned too high. Researchers from the Gipsa-Lab had already shown that the high position of the larynx in babies and Neanderthals is not a handicap in terms of producing different vowels. However, it remained to be proved that monkeys, in particular baboons, were indeed capable of producing these types of vocalizations.

"Vowel-like" or sounds comparable to five human vowels

The researchers acoustically analyzed the vocalizations of baboons, performed an anatomical study of their tongue muscles, and modeled the acoustic potential of their vocal tract. They thereby discovered that these baboons produce sounds comparable to five human vowels [
Publié le January 12, 2017
Mis à jour le February 14, 2017

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