Monkey talk may offer clues to origins of human language

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London, Dec 12 (ANI): Scientists may be a step closer to understanding the origins of human language.

Researchers analysing the noises made by a species of primates say they combine sounds and words to alter their meaning - a key element of human speech.

The team of Scottish scientists found the Campbell's monkey can add a simple sound to its alarm calls to create new ones and then combine them to convey even more information.

The researchers say that while the monkey's linguistic talents may be unique amongst primate species, if the findings prove to be more widespread then they could help to reveal more about the origins of language.

A key feature of human language is the use of suffixes or prefixes at the end or beginning of words to add extra meaning.

For example, adding 'hood' combined with 'brother' creates 'brotherhood'.

After studying the monkeys in Tai National Park, in the Ivory Coast, the scientists found they made several distinct alarm cries, among them calls described as 'boom', 'krak' and 'hok'.

After recording the calls, they discovered that the primates added an 'oo' sound to the end of some of the words, changing the meaning from a specific threat, such as an approaching leopard, to more general calls, such as 'follow me' or 'there's something in the forest canopy'.

"What is interesting is that the same acoustic modifier is being used for these calls, and that is really analogous to using a suffix in human language," the Telegraph quoted Professor Klaus Zuberbuehler, of St Andrews University, one of the scientists on the project, as saying.

A second study focused on how Campbell's monkeys combined their alarm calls.

The team discovered that they were more likely to use a longer sequence of calls than voice individual ones.

For instance, the team realised that a sequence of booms prompted the group to move about. If a pair of booms was followed by a couple of Krak-oos and hok-oos, a neighbouring group of Campbell's monkeys or another lone male had been spotted nearby.

Zuberbuehler said: "Campbell's monkeys and humans separated from a common ancestor about 30 million years ago. This shows that there seem to be ancestral traits floating around the primate lineage that haven't been known before."

The scientists say this is the first time they have been able to prove that language combinations in animals correspond to external events.

The research is published in the journals Plos One and PNAS. (ANI)

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