Washington DC, Aug 16 : A new study reveals that apes might be closer to speaking than many scientists thought.
In a study, Marcus Perlman, who started research work at The Gorilla Foundation, sifted 71 hours of video of Koko, a gorilla best known for American Sign Language, interacting with other researchers, and found repeated examples of Koko performing nine different, voluntary behaviors that required control over her vocalisation and breathing. These were learned behaviors, not part of the typical gorilla repertoire.
Perlman watched Koko blow a raspberry when she wanted a treat, blow her nose into a tissue, play wind instruments, huff moisture onto a pair of glasses before wiping them with a cloth and mimic phone conversations by chattering wordlessly into a telephone cradled between her ear and the crook of an elbow.
Perlman said that Koko did not produce a pretty, periodic sound when she performed these behaviors, like people do when they speak, adding that she could control her larynx enough to produce a controlled grunting sound.
He said that most probably Koko was no more gifted than other gorillas, adding that the difference was just her environmental circumstances.
This suggested that some of the evolutionary groundwork for the human ability to speak was in place at least by the time of our last common ancestor with gorillas, estimated to be around 10 million years ago.
Perlman further said that Koko showed the potential under the right environmental conditions for apes to develop quite a bit of flexible control over their vocal tract.
The study is published in the journal Animal Cognition. (ANI)