The vocabulary of apes is shaped by

In humans it happens. Our vocabulary adapts according to our social mix. And not only in humans. Similarly, the vocabulary of apes is shaped. Research led by the University of Warwick discovered this.

Ape vocabulary is shaped by social mixing.
Ape vocabulary is shaped according to social mix.

Enriching language

The study was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. They studied wild orangutans with distinct “vocal personalities”. These are shaped by the social groups in which they live and communicate. It is not a fixed repertoire of instinctive, automated calls as previously assumed.

The study is led by Adriano R. Lameira, Ph.D., of Warwick’s Department of Psychology. In Southeast Asia he recorded the calls of about 70 individual apes from six populations.

Orangutan populations were differentiated by their population density. In those with high density, the orangutans communicated using a wide variety of original calls. They were testing a multitude of novel sound variants that were continually modified or abandoned.

In more dispersed populations of lower density they used more established and conventional calls. In these, new call variants were retained. Thus, the repertoire was always richer than those of high density. There, new call variants were discarded.

This could also explain the origin of language in humans.
This could also explain the origin of language in humans.

Origin of speech

It may have been the case with our direct and extinct ape ancestors. Social influence was steadily increasing. In many ways, language was determined by social mixing.

Adriano R. Lameira is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Warwick. He says: that “it is one of the oldest enigmas in science: the origin and evolution of language.”

“The vocabulary of apes is shaped. That probably led to the emergence of the talking ape, us. It wasn’t divine intervention or the randomness of genetics,” he adds.

“Many more clues await us in the lives of our closest living relatives. We must ensure their protection and their preservation in the wild. Each population that disappears will take with it irretrievable glimpses of our species’ evolutionary history,” he warns.

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