The secret of speech

Human speech may have evolved as long back as 25 million years ago, says new research that is based on the study of speech patterns of baboons. Baboons are a large species of monkey found in Africa and Arabia.

The call of the baboon

Researchers from the United States and France who studied the baboons were struck by the calls made by the animals. Their barks, yacks and wa-hoos contained vowel sounds that are strikingly similar to human made sounds. As you know the English language is broken into vowels and consonants and vowels are associated with the letters a,e,i,o and u.

Like humans, baboons are also primates, and the similarity of the sounds suggests that our speech may have evolved (developed) from abilities present in our animal ancestors (our relations who lived long, long ago). As you may know, humans share a common ancestor with other primates.

Language is older than we think

This changes a long-held idea that speech developed only when early humans developed the larynx or voice box. Researchers who studied more than 1300 baboon calls also looked at the structure of the animal’s tongue. There, they found muscles similar to the human tongue, which help make the vowel sounds.

The ability to speak and use different languages is one of the things that make humans different from the rest of animal world. It now appears that this is a skill that also harks (goes) back to the time when we were more closely related to animals. What however sets us apart is that humans have developed and polished the skill to the point that we have complex (opposite of simple) languages and many of them.