There is little doubt that non-human primates like Koko the gorilla are very intelligent. Koko, for example, uses sign language to communicate with people, telling them that she loves her pet cats, Miss Black and Miss Grey. Koko, however, is noticeably the strong and silent type, at least when it comes to speaking our language. She doesn't say a word.
They may not always show it, but new research, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that non-human primates, even monkeys down on the food chain, have the vocal anatomy to produce clearly intelligible human speech. The discovery negates a long-standing theory that monkeys, gorillas, chimps and the like do not talk as we do because they are incapable of creating the sounds required for the skill.
"I hope that this new data dispels forever the widespread myth that monkeys and apes cannot speak because of anatomical limitations of their vocal tract," lead author Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna's Department of Cognitive Biology told Seeker.
RELATED: Monkey-Made Nut Processing Site Found
Fitch, senior author Asif Ghazanfar, Bart de Boer and Neil Mathur investigated the range of movements that primate vocal anatomy could produce. Using X-ray videos, they captured and then traced the movements of a macaque's tongue, lips, larynx and more as the monkey vocalized, ate and made facial expressions. The researchers then used these X-rays to build a computer model of a monkey vocal tract, allowing them to answer the question: What would monkey speech sound like, if a human brain were in control?
You can hear the results, first with the monkey model saying, "Will you marry me?" and then, "Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas in French)."
(Recordings courtesy of Asif Ghazanfar, Princeton Neuroscience Institute; Image 1 Credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, Flickr; Image 2, showing Tecumseh Fitch in his lab: University of Vienna)