Estimated beginnings of speech may have just been pushed back from 100K years to 25M years
Vowel sounds made by baboons show that the roots of human speech may go back 25 million years
Amina Khan Contact Reporter
Jan 11, 2017; 1920hrs PST
The findings, described in the journal PLOS One, could have significant implications for our understanding of human speech’s development and the emergence of language.
Think about “cat,” “kit,” “cut,” “coat,” “coot,” “keet,” and “caught” – seven words with different meanings. Each has a “k” sound at the beginning and a “t” at the end, and are essentially differentiated in sound only by their vowels. Without each of those subtly distinguishable vowels, we wouldn’t be able to tell those words apart.
Many scientists have thought that human speech may have evolved recently – within the last 100,000 years or so – partly because they figured that humans’ primate ancestors didn’t have vocal tracts that were physically capable of generating speech. But the new findings show that this assumption is not true: The ability to articulate vowel-like sounds, necessary for the development of human speech, was probably shared by the last common ancestor of both humans and baboons some 25 million years ago.
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