Vocabulary of orangutans changes during communication with other orangutans

(ORDO NEWS) — It turns out that not only people change vocabulary depending on the social environment. This probably occurs among orangutans as well. Orangutans are quick to pick up new sounds, like teenage humans hanging out with new company.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution , scientists observed 70 orangutans from six populations in Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia.

Observation of interactions between animals and analysis of recordings of their vocalizations showed that in dense populations there were more experiments with vocabulary and diversity. Orangutans used a wide range of original calls mixed with new sounds.

On the other hand, small and dispersed populations were less likely to make new sounds, but as a rule, if new sounds appeared, they quickly took root and remained for a long time.

It turned out that in loose groups the vocabulary was wider, since in large populations new sounds, although they sounded more often, were quickly forgotten.

Language development

It is believed that social influence is one of the means of agreeing on a fixed standard of communication within a population. So speech norms become “norms”.

Therefore, establishing at what point in human evolutionary history primates began to pay attention to and be influenced by the vocalizations of other primates is an important step in understanding how language began.

Researchers’ findings

Scientists have concluded that orangutans display “vocal personalities”. These “personalities”, like the personalities of people, are formed and changed under the influence of other orangutans.

“We can now begin to imagine the gradual path that likely led to the emergence of the talking ape, us, rather than attributing our unique verbal skills and advanced cognition to divine intervention or a random genetic jackpot,” the researchers write.


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