One can say that the birth of language is a popular topic of debate among humans. In the present, though, a leading theory dates language back to 70,000 to 100,000 years ago.
Baboons Can Speak Like Humans?
However, recent evidence suggests that the origins go way further. Researchers are now looking for the capacity of language present about 25 million years ago.
Louis-Jean Boe and colleagues of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Grenoble Alpes University began studying baboon vocalizations. The research aims to establish whether or not baboons have the capacity to utter vowel-like sounds, which involve the control of their vocal tracts. Despite the fact that they possess high voice boxes (larynxes), as reported in PLoS ONE, the animals could still make vowel sounds.
“This breaks a serious logjam. Theories of language evolution have developed based on the idea that full speech was only available to anatomically modern Homo sapiens,” said study co-author Thomas Sawallis.
Baboons Capable of Distinct Vowel Sounds
The team held an acoustical analysis of 1,335 different grunts, wahoos, copulation calls, barks and yaks from male and female Guinea baboons in various social contexts. From there, they discovered that the animals are capable of producing five distinct vowel-like sounds.
Researchers then moved to the next step, which is to study the anatomy of the animals’ vocal tracts. These include the tongue muscles and the vocal fold lengths.
“Compared with humans, baboons have a child-like vocal tract but adult-like vocal folds,” the researchers wrote. The breakdown indicated that the vowel-like sounds were produced by a specific motion “in a manner clearly comparable to the two articulatory-acoustic dimensions universal to human speech.”
According to the researchers, the results indicated the capacity of spoken language going way back at least 25 million years ago, when the last common ancestor we have in common with baboons had lived.