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Flexibility in Great Ape Vocal Production

Flexibility in Great Ape Vocal Production

(p.260) 11 Flexibility in Great Ape Vocal Production
Chimpanzees in Context
Simon W. TownsendStuart K. WatsonKatie E. Slocombe
University of Chicago Press

Language’s emergence has been argued to represent one of the major evolutionary transitions in the history of life, yet elucidating its origins is challenging. However, unpacking the phylogenetic roots of language through studying non-human primate communication can shed light on the evolution of key linguistic features. Despite accumulating a wealth of data on primate referential capabilities, less attention has focused on the psychological mechanisms underlying primate vocal production. Several previous reviews of monkey neural and behavioral data have concluded that monkey vocal production is not under voluntary or cortical control, and extrapolation of these findings to apes has led to the assumption that vocal production in our closest-living relatives is inflexible, hardwired and qualitatively different to human language. This chapter presents recent developments in vocal research that begin to challenge these traditional assumptions. Specifically, this chapter describes recent behavioral and neurobiological evidence that suggests monkeys demonstrate greater flexible control over vocal production than previously thought. Furthermore, in light of observational and experimental data in chimpanzees and other apes, this chapter argues that inferences about vocal flexibility in apes based on monkey data should be made with caution.

Keywords:   vocal communication, vocal flexibility, monkeys, apes, language evolution, communication

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