Chimpanzees form camels – Wikipedia

When Jane Goodall noticed a pair of chimpanzees rolling around in a pile of termites with sticks in the 1960s, she shook the man’s image of himself and noticed the difference with the animal.

Many other abilities that were initially considered human are later found in our closest relatives: chimpanzees have friends and enemies, they understand the intentions of others and help each other. They even remember who supported them and later gave back.

What has continued to appear unique is evolving human language—until now. Scientists have now shaken this certainty, too. In a study just published in the journal Communication biology A team led by Cédric Girard-Buttoz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Emiliano Zacarella of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences shows that the very important language chimpanzees speak in the forest is much more complex than expected. There are even indications that the animals form something like a camel.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 4,826 sounds from 46 wild chimpanzees of the Pan troglodytes verus subspecies they recorded in Tay National Park in southwest Ivory Coast. First, they identified 12 distinct tones, including grunts, shorts, screams, barks, screams, and whines. According to scientists, what all these sounds mean depends on how they are pronounced, but also on the situation in which the animals are at the moment.

Grunts paired with frank panting with subservience

Next, the researchers examined combinations of these sounds and found: “Most of the sounds made by animals individually also occurred in a two-unit (pigram) sequence, which in turn was contained in a three-unit (trigram) sequence.” The meaning of a sound changes when it is used in combination with other sounds. “Individual grunts, for example, are mainly emitted by animals when they eat,” the scientists wrote in their study. However, in combination with the sounds of panting, the grunts expressed submission in the salutation. “Individual cries are made by chimpanzees when threatened, but panting cries also occur when communicating within a group.”

Scientists have identified a total of 390 different sound sequences, which are supposed to have different meanings. To exaggerate a little, one can also say that chimpanzees form a camel. In principle, human language also relies on the ability to repeatedly combine a limited set of sounds to create words and sentences.

The study is an example of how important it is to study an animal’s behavior and capabilities not only in a laboratory or zoo, but also in its natural environment. This makes a big difference, especially when studying how primates communicate: Captive chimpanzees rarely communicate via sounds, which has led some experts to assume that humans’ closest relatives communicate primarily through gestures and that proper communication isn’t important. The current study now proves otherwise. In a zoo, where animals can usually see each other, it is probably not necessary to contact each other.

However, the 390 are small groups compared to the variety of human languages. And even if the study’s authors assume that they did not record all the variables and that there are indeed many, one thing is clear: the distinct language of Homo sapiens is exceptional and in this respect is in fact human. How it arose is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in evolutionary biology. There are only guesses. Psychologist and anthropologist Michael Tomasello, for example, posits that it is the result of people’s irrepressible need to collaborate and exchange ideas with others.

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