Why monkeys don't speak English...

... or any other human language for that matter. Even though both monkeys and humans have the anatomical tools for speech, only humans communicate in this manner. Researchers had assumed, incorrectly, that the anatomy of the vocal tract (lips, tongue, larynx) of monkeys was not capable of producing speech. A new study published in Science Advances shows instead that it is all in our heads.

The researchers came to this conclusion after creating x-ray videos of macaques making sounds and eating. They used these videos to create computer models that could translate the movements they observed in the vocal tract to possible sounds. What they found was that macaques could in theory create enough different vocalizations for human speech. Therefore, the recent findings suggest that the reason humans are able to speak is due to our brain's ability to control our vocal tract.

Using computer models, researchers also simulated what a macaque might sound like if it could speak English in this YouTube video:

This is rather timely research given the upcoming opening of the new movie War for the Planet of the Apes next July (2017). The Director should have checked out this research before assuming what a monkey with vocal control might sound like.


WT Fitch, B de Boer, N Mathur, AA Ghazanfar. Monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready. Science Advances. 2(12): e1600723, 2016.

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Occasionally when my cat's daddy says "I love you" to her distinctly (an utterance she otherwise gives some indications of understanding), she looks back soulfully and says: "Meow MEOW meow." She usually is not talkative and considers one mew at a time to be adequate communication. We both wonder if she is not trying to imitate "I love you."

My cats call me when they want me to clean up their loo.

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink


This article also discusses the study published in Science Advances, but goes more into the details of why other animals can speak and mimic sounds. Here is a quote from the article:

"'there are other ways imaginable to achieve speech.' She pointed out that parrots, seals and elephants either use quite different brain regions to vocalize, or the underlying systems remain largely unknown. Animals might not do things under natural conditions, but are capable of doing them when trained and prompted, such as sea lions and parrots moving to a beat."

By Hutcherozygous (not verified) on 09 Jan 2017 #permalink