Why can't animals speak like humans?

anatomy : Why monkeys can't talk

The voice croaked a little and an unfamiliar accent resonated with the question "Do you want to marry me?" But otherwise the four words came clearly understandable from the language computer - to the surprise of the linguists. Eventually, the calculator mimicked the lips, tongue, and larynx of a monkey.

For more than 50 years, researchers have believed that anatomy prevents animals from speaking. Their physique allows monkeys to make warning calls and other sounds. A language like that of humans is therefore impossible. Tecumseh Fitch from the University of Vienna and his colleagues now write in the journal “Science Advances”.

You are confirming an assumption that Charles Darwin had already harbored: the structure of the speech apparatus between the larynx and lips does not differ too much in monkeys and humans. The fact that people today communicate with one another in more than 6000 different languages ​​while no species of monkey has developed a language is due to the interconnections in the brain. Only we humans have connections there who control and coordinate the speech apparatus in such a way that we can speak with it.

The plaster casts were misleading

This thesis was valid until the 1960s. Scientists then looked at plaster casts of the speech apparatus of dead rhesus monkeys and later of other monkeys down to the smallest detail, fed their computer programs with the data and calculated the animals' speech capacities. The result was always similar: purely anatomically, the speech apparatus is not able to produce so many different sounds from which human language is built. Darwin was apparently refuted, at least in this area.

Fitch and his colleagues have now made X-ray videos of living crab monkeys. They watched their mouths and throats while the animals uttered warning calls while they ate, smacked their lips or chattered their teeth. Similar to their predecessors, they fed the data into the computer model and found that the monkeys can very well produce many different sounds and can use them to form thousands of words. Using plaster casts of dead animals, the other researchers had vastly underestimated the possibilities of the monkeys.

The monkeys can make five vowels

For example, the monkeys easily generate five different vowels - some human languages ​​only need three. Consonants like p, b, k, g, h, m and w don't cause you any difficulties anyway. In order to find out what a monkey's speech sounds like, Fitch and his colleagues combined the computer model with the monkey speech apparatus with software. The marriage proposal generated in this way still croaks strongly, but the words are easy to understand. Long before humans evolved, the physical prerequisites for speaking were obviously in place. For the development of language then only a control system had to be created in the brain. Just as Darwin suspected.

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