A new study has revealed that monkeys have a vocal tract capable of speech similar to that of humans. However, as outlandish it may seem for monkeys to start talking, their capacity is still limited by the fact that their brains were wired in a way that would allow them to properly use the vocal anatomy.
The findings of the study which was published in the journal Science Advances suggests that among primates, humans are unique thanks to our ability to control the vocal tract, and not simply just having it.
For their study, the researchers decided to build on an experiment from 1969 conducted by Philip Lieberman on a dead macaque, which revealed that they could only be able to produce a few vocals. However, the researchers were not entirely satisfied with those results. As such, they decided to study a live macaque monkey.
The monkey was analyzed using an X-ray machine while it vocalized, made various facial expressions as well as when it ate. The team of researchers used the data they gathered to create computers models and various parameters of the motions that the macaque’s vocal tract could be capable of.
According to, Asif Ghanzanfar, one of the authors of the study, and a neuroscientist at Princeton University, New Jersey, a living macaque can produce a range of different sounds which overlaps in slight measure with the sounds of what humans can produce.
The study reveals that the monkey can produce around five vowel sounds, similar to humans. However, they are missing the ability to produce the /i/ vowel, which is particularly special in the development of human speech. The vocal anatomy of monkeys doesn’t seem to be capable of producing that specific sound. Nonetheless, they could be capable of a primitive form of speech.
The team of researchers believes that their main limitations in developing the capacity for higher speech are caused by the lack of neural pathways specific to speech. In this regard, there isn’t anything that trainers and scientists can do to improve the monkey’s capacity for advanced speech.
What do you think about monkeys having vocal tracts similar to humans? Would you like the idea of a talking monkey?
Image source: Flickr