Scientists said that bonobos talk using high-pitched calls that could be understood depending on the context, similar to how human babies communicate.
A team of international scientists has found that a species of great ape which can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo is able to communicate similar to how human infants do. They communicate with peeps, with their mouths closed, and can have numerous meanings depending on the context.
A biologist at the Université de Neuchâtel, Dr. Clay, said that she was amazed by the frequency of the calls. She immediately realized that those peeps were being used in a broad variety of situations in order to express an entire spectrum of emotions. In neutral and positive situations, the high pitched calls were acoustically indistinguishable.
Clay said in an interview that bonobos peep in pretty much any situation you can imagine. The animals peep when they are playing, nest building, resting, grooming, feeding, traveling – anything you can imagine. This is more amazing seeing how these animals create other calls that are a lot more fixed in their function and apparent use.
Birds, primates and others are known to take advantage of “fixed calls” – signals used for a particular emotional state or context. Bonobos bark in order to alert their group about predators, scream when they display aggression and laugh when they are playing. However, the peeps are a lot more flexible, and they are used for complex communication. Human babies also use similar sounds before they develop language skills. These sounds are called protophones.
Clay said that protophones are the foundation of speech in humans, and that they vary in function throughout numerous contexts and emotional states. The peep looks to be an exceptional call in the repertoire of bonobos seeing how flexible it can be. Clay claims that these sounds represent a significant evolutionary transition in the communication of primates. The switch from fixed signals to flexible ones played a crucial step in human speech.
Even though humans are special in terms of their ability to speak and capacity to have a language, the building blocks of these capabilities seem to be present already in the last ancestor that we share with great apes. Clay added that the more we discover about our ape relatives, the more we learn that a lot of abilities believed to be exclusively human actually have a base in the lineage of primates.
The recent study was published in the PeerJ journal on Tuesday.
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