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Monkeys Can Talk: Lack Of Speech Due To Brain Wiring

10 December 2016, 8:38 am EST By Allan Adamson Tech Times
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In the animal kingdom, primates have the traits and characteristics that most resemble those of human beings. Monkeys, for example, can use stone tools and learn how to use money just like humans.

Monkeys Are Anatomically Equipped For Speech

These animals also have potentials for an ability that is unique to humans, the ability to talk. In a new study published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, researchers reported that monkeys have a vocal anatomy that is capable of human-like speech.

Using an X-ray video of a monkey eating, making facial expressions and vocalizing, the researchers developed computer models and parameters to better understand the potentials of the primate's vocal tract.

The computer model revealed what it would sound like if the primates were able to say certain phrases such as "happy holidays." The results suggest that the vocal tract of monkey are capable of producing hundreds and even thousands of words albeit the animals failed to make the most distinct sounds present in human speech such as the long e.

Vocal Tract Not To Blame Why Monkeys Can't Talk

The findings debunk the long-held idea that monkeys can't talk because they do not have the appropriate vocal tract to make this possible. In the past, researchers studied dead animals to judge the capability of the vocal tracts. The new study involved live rhesus macaque monkeys.

"What you'll find in the textbooks is that monkeys can't talk because they don't have the appropriate vocal tract to do so," said study researcher Tecumseh Fitch, from the University of Vienna. "Lots of popular books, and also scholarly books about the evolution of language, assume that in order to evolve speech we had to have massive changes in our vocal tract."

Monkeys Do Not Have Right Brain Wiring For Speech

If monkeys are anatomically equipped for speech, why don't these animals talk? Fitch and colleagues said that non-human primates can't talk because they lack the right wiring in their brains.

Evolutionary biopsychologist Thore Jon Bergman, from the University of Michigan, who was not part of the study, said that the findings show that what makes people different from other primates is the ability to control the vocal apparatus and not the apparatus itself.

The researchers said that the key to acquiring speech lies somewhere in the brain.

"Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it," the researchers wrote in their study.

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