Vocal functional flexibility in the grunts of young chimpanzees

Derry Taylor, Erik Gustafsson, Guillaume Dezecache, Marina Davila-Ross

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All living things communicate yet only humans can be said to communicate using language. How this came to be the case is a fundamental mystery unsolved by contemporary science. Within a human lifetime, language emerges from a complex developmental process. As such, understanding chimpanzee vocal development is essential to understanding the evolutionary roots of language. In human development, language is directly built upon the early capacity for “vocal functional flexibility”—the ability to flexibly express the same vocalizations in different ways to achieve different functions. Primate vocalizations, by contrast, have long been believed to be relatively inflexible regarding both production and function. In this paper, we break new ground by providing evidence for vocal functional flexibility in one of the first systematic studies of early chimpanzee vocal production and function. This finding implies the developmental foundations for language are rooted in our primate evolutionary heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107791
Issue number10
Early online date11 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2023

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