Monkeys Lack Brain Circuitry To Speak

Posted: Dec 10 2016, 6:26am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Monkeys Lack Brain Circuitry to Speak
With their vocal tract, it would be easy for monkeys to produce many different language sounds. Credit: Tecumseh Fitch/University of Vienna
  • Monkeys have the Hardware but not the Software for Speech

Scientists have discovered that monkeys have the vocal anatomy but not the brain circuitry for human speech.

Although experiments have taken place to teach monkeys and other primates human speech, no such success has been seen in regard to this. Human beings may be the only living creatures on earth with the unique ability to truly communicate with each other via speech and linguistic signs.

Since the early days of evolutionary theory, there have been two explanations which have been given for this. The first one says that primates lack the brain apparatus for speech. The other one looks to differences in anatomy between primates and humans.

Recent experiments showed that the monkeys (macaques to be exact) had the vocal capacity on a physical level (meaning that they possessed the hardware).

It was the neural networks that they lacked which led to non-production of speech. X-ray images from live monkeys showed this to be clear as the light of day.

Various computer models were also generated to determine whether the monkeys could be capable of producing speech. What was found was that indeed these monkeys were speech-ready on a physical level.

The anatomy of living macaques was studied using x-ray videos. The configuration of the range of vocal movements were tallied. These included lip smacking and teeth chattering.

The rest of the research was very complex with heuristics and mathematical models being applied to the situation at hand.

What it proved beyond a shadow of doubt was that monkey speech could be capable of copying human speech but the only problem lay in the minds of these monkeys. They were somehow not up to the mark when it came to the field of linguistics.

The primate range of vowel expression and general speech manifestation is such that it could if it wanted to create a range of sounds matching human language in its richness and complexity.

Yet this was nowhere to be seen. Were its brain capable of configuring those flexible rules of language into a system then and only then would it be able to speak in a manner that would resemble language.

These monkeys had everything on the level of the apparatus but they were missing one thing: the power to express through thought what they held inside their beings. That requires abstract thought which only the human brain is capable of generating due to its highly evolved neo-cortex region.

The findings of this study got published on Dec. 9 in the journal Science Advances.

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