Why do parrots talk but not chimpanzees?

We are not the only talking animals. According to the RAE, speaking is strictly spoken words, and does not necessarily mean that we understand them. According to it CriterionParrots and crows are two of the best examples of speech in the animal world. Because if we refer to words, the definition is clear, they are human linguistic units separated by pauses or spaces. Although they communicate using complex sounds, such as prairie dogs or dolphins, these vocalizations cannot be called “words,” even if they are repeated with fixed meaning. Cetaceans and corvids, in general (families belonging to parrots and crows respectively), have a special facility for imitating human sounds and, in some cases, seeming to understand them. Basic The relationship between these sounds and their meaning.

It is clear that parrots and crows are particularly intelligent animals, but they are not very intelligent. Watch out for the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. They are our closest relatives, and we diverged definitively from chimpanzees about 4 million years ago. That would be logical animals Anatomically closer to us and more intelligent than parrots and crows, they are more capable of imitating our sounds than they actually are. Such is their vocal limitation that great ape language experiments have eschewed the spoken word in favor of sign language. What causes this limitation?

Could there be a limit to the brains of great apes? This is possible for a short period of time Evolution This separates us because our last common ancestor with chimpanzees changed many of the traits our brains needed to develop speech. This would be entirely plausible, but after extensive studies in comparative neuroscience and other related fields, most hypotheses suggest that there are no major neural differences between our brains and a great ape’s, and that they are more likely to account for the lack of speech development. Trivial: They cannot voice. Humans are characterized by having particularly precise control over the muscles involved in phonetics and speech.

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In principle, they have structures similar to ours, capable of decoding language and producing it. In fact, they are involved in the use of sign language. We don’t know if they can handle spoken language in the same way, but everything makes us think so, so we should focus on understanding the limitations of their speech apparatus.. Because if we compare our larynx to that of other mammals, we can see that ours occupies less space. Above that is a generous space that allows us to modulate our voice and make audible the tones our vocal cords produce as they vibrate.

In fact, human babies also have very high larynxes, which allow them to breathe while nursing, but make it difficult to vocalize. At two years of age, his larynx descends and vocalization becomes possible. But that’s not all, because with this anatomical change there was a mutation in our DNA that made us different from other great apes. The FoxP2 gene is expressed elsewhere in the central nervous system, and if it’s mutated, its carriers can show problems finding words to express themselves, making them a perfect suspect. Indeed, while the FoxP2 gene has remained more or less constant throughout vertebrate evolution, we are the exception. This has changed since we split with our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

Unfortunately, FoxP2 does not appear to be decisive in the evolution of vocalization for non-human primates, but we do know that the avian phonology is crucial for crows and parrots to fully imitate our voice. So, after all, it’s an anatomical question rather than a cerebral one. Obviously, it is not without a certain intelligence, but not too much. We might think, then, that the real key is the interaction between the two skills, being intelligent enough to understand that human language is a form of communication we can follow and, of course, the right throat to follow.

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Don’t get it:

  • When talking about language in animals, it is difficult to find consensus on definitions. If we are relaxed, even cats like to communicate with humans in a special way, mimicking our speech with their meows, and some studies depend on the language their owners speak. Anyway, let’s face it, it’s not talking, and it’s not a language, even if they try. Because communication is not the same as language. Language is our cognitive ability to create and understand a language, which is a specific symbolic code with its own set of rules (ontology) and a relationship between words and meanings (semantics).

Notes (MLA):

  • Tecumseh Fitch W. and Rebbe David 2001 Dead larynx is not a uniquely human prog. R. Soc London. P.2681669–1675 http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2001.1704
  • Ghazanfar, Asif A., Y Drew Randall. “The Evolution of Human Voice Production.” Current Biology, Vol. 18, no. 11, 3 de Junio ​​de 2008, p. PR457-R460, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.03.030.

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