Orangutans Make Two Sounds Simultaneously: A Clue to the Evolution of Human Speech – Neuroscience News

It shows an orangutan.

Summary: Orangutans are capable of simultaneously producing two different sounds, similar to human beatboxers or songbirds. Through observations of vocalizing populations of orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra, researchers discovered this shared vocal phenomenon.

The findings raise interesting questions about the evolution of human speech and beatboxing abilities. Researchers argue that the ability to produce dual sounds may have been part of the early language structure of our ancestors.

Key Facts:

  1. Orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra have been observed making two different sounds at once, like human beatboxers or songbirds.
  2. The vocal phenomenon discovered suggests that the first language structure of our ancestors may have resembled something like beatboxing.
  3. The study indicates that the vocal control abilities of great apes, a shared ancestor, have been underestimated compared to the focus on bird vocal abilities.

Source: University of Warwick

Orangutans can make two separate sounds at once, similar to songbirds or human beatboxers, according to a study led by the University of Warwick.

Academics say the findings provide clues around the evolution of human speech, as well as human beatboxing.

Scientists observed two populations of vocalizing orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra for a total of 3800 hours and found that primates within both groups used the same vocal phenomenon.

It shows an orangutan.
According to the authors, the vocal control and coordination ability of wild great apes has been underestimated compared to the focus on the vocal ability of birds. Credit: Neuroscience News

Dr Adriano Lameira, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Warwick, said: “People use the lips, tongue and jaw to make the unvoiced consonant sounds, while activating the vocal folds in the larynx with exhaled air to make the voice, open. vowel sound.

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“Orangutans are capable of making both kinds of sounds—and both at the same time.

“For example, large male orangutans in Borneo will make noises known as “chomps” along with “grumbles” in combative situations. Female orangutans in Sumatra make “kiss squeaks” along with “rolling calls ” to alert others to a possible predator threat.

“The fact that two separate populations of orangutans have been observed making two calls simultaneously, is proof that this is a biological phenomenon.

Co-author and independent researcher Madeleine Hardus added: “People rarely make voiced and voiceless noise at the same time. The exception is beatboxing, a great vocal performance that imitates complex beats of hip hop music.

“But the very fact that humans are able to beatbox anatomically, raises questions about where that ability came from. We now know that the answer may lie within the evolution of our ancestors.

According to the authors, the vocal control and coordination ability of wild great apes has been underestimated compared to the focus on the vocal ability of birds.

“Making two sounds, exactly how birds make songs, resembles spoken language but bird anatomy has nothing in common with our own so it is difficult to make links between bird songs, and the spoken language of man,” continued Dr Hardus.

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The new research has implications for the vocal abilities of our shared ancestors and for the evolution of human speech—as well as human beatboxing. Dr Lameira said: “Now that we know that this vocal ability is part of the great ape’s repertoire, we cannot ignore the evolutionary links.

“It’s possible that early human language resembled something like beatboxing, before evolution organized language into the consonant – vowel structure we know today.”

About this speech and evolutionary neuroscience research news

Author: Natalie Gidley
Source: University of Warwick
Please contact: Natalie Gidley – University of Warwick
Image: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
“Wild orangutans can simultaneously use two independent sources of vocal sound similar to songbirds and human beatboxers” by Adriano Lameira et al. PNAS Nexus


Wild orangutans can simultaneously use two independent sources of vocal sound similar to songbirds and human beatboxers

Speaking is among the most complex motor tasks that humans perform. Songbirds match this feat of song production by precise and simultaneous motor control of two sound sources in the syrinx.

This integrated and complex motor control has made songbirds comparative models par excellence for the evolution of speech, however, the phylogenetic distance to humans hinders an improved understanding of these precursors. which, within the human line, drove the emergence of advanced vocal motor control and speech.

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Here, we report two types of combination biphonic calls in wild orangutans that articulatorily resemble human beatboxing and result from the simultaneous use of two vocal sound sources: an unvoiced source achieved through articulatory lip, tongue, and jaw maneuvering as typically used for consonant-like call production, with a vocal origin achieved through laryngeal action and voice activation as typically used for producing call like a vowel.

Orangutan biphonic call combinations reveal unappreciated levels of, and unique neuromotor channels for, vocal motor control in a wild great ape, providing a direct vocal motor analogy with birdsong based on accurate and simultaneous co-control of two sound sources.

The findings suggest that human speech and vocal fluency likely developed in the complex combination of call, coordination and coarticulation capacities involved in vowel-like and consonant-like calls in an ancestral hominid.

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