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White-Handed Gibbons Communicate the Same Way as Early Human Ancestors

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It is long known that animals communicate with each other but findings of a new study suggest that how certain animals communicate with one another may be far more complex than previously thought.

A study on the sounds produced by white-handed gibbons, for instance, reveals that these animals use a form of language that resemble those that were used by human ancestors.

Angela Dassow and Michael Coen, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who made the discovery, have found evidence that the animals make use of linguistic structures and words that are comparable to those that are used by humans.

The gibbons at the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin in particular have helped supply the researchers with the idea to compare these animals with other species that communicate including humans. The researchers' study has revealed the gibbons use a range of sounds or words that have distinct meanings.

Some of these sounds serve as a warning of different predators such as clouded leopards, tigers, and a number of snakes. More interestingly, the sounds also convey more detail about the looming danger like how close the predator is and whether or not it is moving.

Some of the sounds that the gibbons produce are also used to disciple younger gibbons or other members of the group. The animals were likewise observed to use a set of quieter sounds when trying to convey a message in more intimate settings.

In one instance, the researchers have recorded a father gibbon talking quietly to his daughter during play and they think that the older animal was trying to curb his child's aggression just as how human parents do with their children.

Dassow and Coen have identified 26 sounds the white-handed gibbons use. Scientists such as Durham University anthropologist Esther Clarke claim that these words are the type of sounds that the first humans would have used to convey message by song to each other 1.8 million years ago.

"Are they words as we know them? No. Does that mean that only human words are words? No, I don't think so," Coen, who used computer for expressing the sound produced by the gibbons as algorithm in order to better understand their language, said. "The bottom line would tentatively seem to be that language is far more universal than linguists believe."

Besides gibbons, dolphins and rats are also being studied for their communication skills.

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