Dawn of speech can be traced back 20million years — at least 100 times further than thought

THE dawn of speech can be traced back 20million years — at least 100 times further than thought.

Researchers say our ape-like ancestors were capable of producing contrasting vowel sounds, a key element of language.

Researchers traced the dawn of speech back 20 million years and found our ape-like ancestors were capable of making vowel sounds
Researchers traced the dawn of speech back 20 million years and found our ape-like ancestors were capable of making vowel sounds

And they found having a low voice box — enabling more space for the tongue to move — is not uniquely human.

It is also not required to produce contrasting frequencies while communicating through the mouth.

Monkeys were thought to lack the right kind of larynx to make such a range of sounds.

But analysis of their grunts, barks and sex noises shows they are capable of remarkably human vocalisations.

Humans can make vowel sounds because they can precisely control the position of the tongue.

The anatomical examinations of the tongues of other primates found they have the same muscles as humans — suggesting they use a similar technique.

Lead author Dr Louis-Jean Boe said it means the emergence of speech will have begun not 200,000 years ago, but over 20million.

His team reviewed recent studies on primate vocalisations and communication.

They used acoustic models from their own published work. Dr Boe, based in Grenoble, France, added: “A good deal more comparative work with living primates is called for. We eagerly await exploratory reports.”



 

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