A new study shows that Bonobos have evolved the ability to communicate in the same way that human babies do – by using a vague, interpretable sound with a meaning that varies from context to context. Such a type of “flexible” communication was previously believed to be specific to human beings.
The researchers, a team from the University of Neuchatel and the University of Birmingham, has descried this newly discovered call as short yet high-pitched “peep” that the Bonobos make with their mouths closed.
The team examined the call extensively, paying close attention to its acoustic structure, and saw no changes between what they referred to as “neutral” circumstances and what they referred to as “positive” circumstances. What this suggests is that the Bonobo members receiving the call would have to look at the context in order to deduce its meaning.
Human babies do pretty much the same thing. They make distinctive sounds known as “protophones” (which differ from laughing sounds and crying sounds) and use them independently of how they feel emotionally.
Previous studies that have credited this as a human trade have said that the presence of such an ability in an infant’s first year on this planet is “a critical step in the development of vocal language”.
They also theorized that it may have also “been a critical step in the evolution of human language”, which brings up a few interesting questions if you believe that human beings evolved from primates or if you’re a big fan of The Planet Of The Apes movies and books, especially since Chimpanzees and Bonobos are the closest relatives that we have in the animal kingdom.
Dr. Zanna Clay, lead researcher and member of the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology, gave a statement in a press release admitting that she was “struck by how frequent their peeps were, and how many different contexts they produce them in”.
She went on to add that she and her team learned pretty quickly that they have to understand the context if they want to differentiate between peeps and figure out the Bonobos’ communication.
An interesting finding is that the “peeps” that the primates make during negative contexts are very different from an acoustic perspective. The working theory is that this happens because of the higher subglottal air pressure that their bodies produce in such a scenario.
Dr. Clay and her team also concluded that this ability is not uniquely humans and that the more researcher look, the more similarities they find between humans and animals.
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