January 20, 2022 4:47 pm

The calls of the orangutans travel through the jungle without losing meaning

Until now, it was believed that the sounds of orangutans were linked together so that calls between individuals retain their meaning through the jungle despite the distance. This would create the basis for the development of language, which could give rise to the human.

This model on the evolution of human speech, accepted 20 years ago and developed by mathematicians at Harvard University, proposed that our ancestors linked sounds in their calls to increase the possibilities of transmitting the content of a signal to a receiver that was far away. . Because the quality could degrade, the sounds could begin to coalesce to efficiently send a packet of information, albeit distorted.

Informational characteristics of calls remain intact until the signal becomes inaudible

Now, a new study, led by the Warwick University in the UK, it challenges this theory. A group of evolutionary psychologists indicates that the calls of nonhuman primates such as orangutans, whose vowel and consonant phonemes are the most similar to the precursors of human language, can move through the jungle without losing their meaning.

The results, published in the journal Biology Letters, reveal that, although the quality of the signal may deteriorate, its content remains intact, even over long distances. In fact, the informational characteristics of the calls remain intact until the signal becomes inaudible.

To reach these conclusions, researchers from the Department of Psychology collected empirical data to investigate the model. To do this, they selected a series of vowel and consonant-like sounds from the bank of recordings of orangutan communications previously stored in Indonesia.

The scientists reproduced the clearest ones and recorded them again in the jungle at distances of 25, 50, 75 and 100 meters. Afterwards, they analyzed the quality and content of the signals received. The study shows that these calls seem to resist the distance when it comes to encoding information.

“The goal was to observe the signals themselves and understand how they behaved like a packet of information,” he explains. Adriano Lameira, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Warwick and leader of the study.

Sound degrades with distance

We have all experienced the effect of sound deteriorating when someone shouts from a distance. “You do not hear all the words they say, but you recognize that they are speaking to you and that it is their voice,” adds Lameira.

The study is a call to the scientific community to start thinking again about how language evolved

Adriano Lameira

When using the sounds real communication of these great apes, which are the most similar to those used by our hominid ancestors, scientists show that, although the sound package distorts and moves away, the content remains unchanged.

The study is “a call to the scientific community to start thinking again about how language evolved,” emphasizes the psychologist. But they have not solved the puzzle either: “In any case, we have delved further into the subject. For this reason, we propose that mathematical models be applied to real life data ”, he confesses.

The team will now try to decipher the meaning of the orangutans’ calls. “We still don’t know what they mean, but right now what is completely clear is that the building blocks of language are present,” concludes the expert.

Source: SINC

Rights: Creative Commons.


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