Social environment of orangutans determined their language

(ORDO NEWS) — The discovery by an international team of researchers could shed light on how human language developed in our distant ancestors.

Experiments show that sociality guides vocal development in songbirds and marmosets. It is known that the social environment determines the language in humans as well . But data on great apes in this regard are missing, although they could shed light on how our own language developed.

A team of scientists from the universities of Warwick, St. Andrews, Exeter (Great Britain), Turin (Italy), Boston (USA), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and other scientific organizations decided to correct this injustice.

The authors of an article published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution analyzed the sounds of about 70 orangutans from 2005 to 2010 of observation (6120 hours in total) living in Borneo and Sumatra.

The apes belonged to six populations, the largest sample ever studied in this type of study (the vocal behavior of great apes), according to the scientists.

At the same time, animal populations differed in the density of groups. The authors of the work noticed that in those of them that were more numerous, the orangutans communicated using a greater variety of original sounds. They seemed to “try” new versions of these sounds, constantly modifying some and discarding others.

In contrast, monkeys from less dense populations preferred more “traditional” sounds, less likely to experiment with new “phonemes” than orangutans from larger groups.

Nevertheless, if they introduced a new sound into the “language”, then they made it “traditional”, that is, they fixed it for themselves. Therefore, their set of combinations of such sounds was richer than that of small groups.

Scientists believe that their results will help unravel the ways in which human language has evolved. Probably, these processes were influenced by the social environment of primates and its density.

“Now we can start to think about what led to the emergence of the talking monkey, instead of attributing our unique verbal skills and advanced knowledge to divine intervention or a random genetic jackpot,” said lead author Dr. Adriano R. Lameira, associate professor of psychology at the University of Warwick. .

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