Orangutans hold key to human speech

New research, led by scientists from the University of St Andrews and Indianapolis Zoo, shows that great apes can control their voice in a similar way to humans, giving a unique insight into the evolution of human language.

The research, in collaboration with the University of Durham, published in Scientific Reports (Friday 22 August), reveals how orangutans can control their voice in a similar way to humans. Working alongside animal care staff and researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo, the team studied then 11-year-old Rocky and 36-year-old Knobi, analysing how the orangutans used their voice to play a basic musical instrument.

Active voicing, voluntary control over vocal fold oscillation, is essential for speech. While traditionally presumed uniquely human, there is currently a growing volume of multidisciplinary data evidencing voice control in great apes.

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