Belgian scientists discovered the reason why primates can’t speak.
A new study reveals astonishing facts about primates’ ability to speak and to use language. The project managed to debunk traditional views on primates’ speech ability according to which the primates’ anatomy impedes them from vocalizing sounds like humans.
The study was conducted by the VUB Artificial Intelligence Lab from Belgium, and its purpose is to determine why primates such as macaque are not capable of producing intelligible speech.
At the beginning of the project, the researchers used an X-Ray machine in order to study the macaque’s anatomical parts which are usually involved in human speech. Subsequently, the researchers looked at the test subject’s larynx, tongue, and lips. In addition, the animal’s facial expressions and sounds were also analyzed.
In order to ascertain if macaques are capable or not of speaking, the scientists took all data collected throughout the study and fed it to a computer.
The computer managed to determine the primate’s vocal range. Using this computer-generated model, the researchers were able to make the primate ‘speak’. As you would have expected, the results are bit unsettling.
Using the simulated model, the scientists made the macaque say “ Will you marry me?”. The recording of the macaque sounds like one of those EVP recordings made by ghost hunters in a haunted mansion. Although scary, the computer-simulated voice reveals some astonishing facts about the primates’ ability to speak.
Before the study, it was believed that primates could not speak due to a limitation of their vocal tract. However, this project, along with autopsies performed on various primate species indicate that the vocal tract of a primate is capable of producing and that the limitation resides within their brain.
The team of scientists, coordinated by Dr. Asif Ghazanfar, a neuroscientist, proved that the primates’ brain is simply not ‘wired’ the right way.
Although the macaque can theoretically produce sounds that may pass as speech, there are many other brain centers involved in language processing, such as the ability to understand and apply syntax, or the ability to assign words to abstract ideas or objects.
The team of Belgian scientists declared that the data gathered throughout the project is considered invaluable in understanding how the human brain evolved in order to use language. Subsequently, the scientists now have to answer another question – What makes the human brain that special?
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