Date: January 12, 2017
Baboons produce vocalizations comparable to vowels. This is what has been demonstrated by an international team coordinated by researchers from the Gipsa-Lab (CNRS/Grenoble INP/Grenoble Alpes University), the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology (CNRS/AMU), and the Laboratory of Anatomy at the University of Montpellier, using acoustic analyses of vocalizations coupled with an anatomical study of the tongue muscles and the modeling of the acoustic potential of the vocal tract in monkeys. Published in PLOS ONE on January 11, 2017, the data confirm that baboons are capable of producing at least five vocalizations with the properties of vowels, in spite of their high larynx, and that they are capable of combining them when they communicate with their partners. The vocalizations of baboons thus point to a system of speech among non-human primates.
Language is a distinctive characteristic of the human species. The question of its origins and how it evolved is one of the most intractable in all science. One of the dominant theories in this field associates the possibility of producing differentiated sounds, the basis of spoken communication, with the "descent of the larynx" observed over the course of the evolution of Homo sapiens. This theory argues that human speech requires a low larynx (in relation to the cervical vertebrae) and that a high larynx, as found in baboons (Papio papio), prevents the production of a system of vocalizations analogous to the vowel system that exists in all languages.