Listen to Dutch chimpanzees speaking in Scottish accent: 'first evidence' of animals modifying language

They changed the sound for 'apples' to match their Scottish counterparts

Emma Finamore
Friday 06 February 2015 15:18
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Dutch chimps have started to sound like their Scottish counterparts
Dutch chimps have started to sound like their Scottish counterparts

A group of Dutch chimpanzees have started making sounds like Scottish chimps at the same zoo.

A study found that the chimps, moved from Scandinavia to Edinburgh Zoo, altered the grunt they used for the word "apples" to sound more like their counterparts.

The Dutch chimps initially used a squeaky high-pitched grunt, with the Scottish chimps using a lower one. Within three years, the Dutch group had dropped down to lower tones.

The research, carried out by the Universities of Zurich and York, suggested that chimps use grunts in a very similar way to how humans use words, which helps explain how human language evolved.

Stuart Watson, one of the researchers, told the BBC the next challenge was to establish whether the change is comparable to a human learning an entirely new language, or simply picking up another accent involuntarily, but still speaking the same language.

Dr Simon Townsend, of the University of Zurich, said: “These findings might shed some light on the evolutionary origins of these abilities.

"The fact that both humans and now chimpanzees possess this basic ability suggests that our shared common ancestor living over six million years ago may also have been socially learning referential vocalisations.”

The Dutch chimps changed the way they said 'apples'

Visitors to the zoo expressed their surprise and amusement at the discovery.

One visitor told the BBC: “That’s absolutely bizarre. It’s hilarious.”

Dr Katie Slocombe, from the University of York's Department of Psychology, said: "An extraordinary feature of human language is our ability to reference external objects and events with socially learned symbols, or words.

"These data represent the first evidence of non-human animals actively modifying and socially learning the structure of a meaningful referential vocalisation."

Listen: These four calls illustrate the acoustic convergence reported by the researchers.

In 2010, Frek (a Dutch chimp) has very high pitched grunts compared to Lucy (an Edinburgh chimp).

However, by 2013, Frek and Lucy have become much more similar.

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