Saturday, 7 February 2015

Chimps Can Learn Foreign 'Dialects,' Experiment Shows

by Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer | February 05, 2015 12:08pm ET

Zookeepers at Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo began a fascinating social experiment in 2010: They put a group of chimpanzees raised locally in the Netherlands together with a group of chimps raised in Scotland. This kind of chimpanzee-group mixing almost never occurs in the wild.

Like all chimpanzees, the two groups of chimps in the study had specialgrunts for certain types of food, which change based on their preferences. The Dutch chimps loved apples, and referred to the fruit using a high-pitched grunt, whereas the Scottish chimps disliked apples, and used a much lower-pitched grunt to describe the fruit.

But after three years of living with the Scottish chimps, the Dutch chimps did something that surprised the researchers: They started using the low-pitched grunt to refer to apples. The new grunts suggested that the Dutch group had learned the word from the Scottish chimps, according to the study, published today (Feb. 5) in the journal Current Biology.

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