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Why Orangutans Are The Beatboxers Of The Jungle

The very fact that humans are anatomically able to beatbox, raises questions about where that ability came from.
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Orangutans are the “beatboxers” of the jungle as they can make two sounds at the same time, reveals new research.

Scientists say the great apes, native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, can make two separate sounds simultaneously, much like songbirds or human beatboxers.

The University of Warwick research team believes their findings provide clues to the evolution of human speech.

They observed two populations of vocalizing orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra for a total of 3,800 hours and found primates in both groups used the same vocal phenomenon.

An orangutan hanging out by the trees and the holding on to 4 by 2. The animals are capable of producing various types of sounds.  DAVID GONZALES via Pexels

“Humans use the lips, tongue, and jaw to make the unvoiced sounds of consonants while activating the vocal folds in the larynx with exhaled air to make the voiced, open sounds of vowels,” said Dr. Adriaano Lameira. “Orangutans are also capable of producing both types of sounds – and both at once.”

An orangutan with a child. There two separate populations of orangutans making two call simultaneouslyBRAHIM ALBRDAWIL via Pexels

“For example, large male orangutans in Borneo will produce noises known as ‘chomps’ in combination with ‘grumbles’ in combative situations.

“Female orangutans in Sumatra produce ‘kiss squeaks’ at the same time as ‘rolling calls’ to alert others of a possible predator threat.

“The fact that two separate populations of orangutans were observed making two calls simultaneously, is proof that this is a biological phenomenon.”

Co-author Dr. Madeleine Hardus added: “Humans rarely produce voiced and voiceless noises simultaneously.

“The exception is beatboxing, a skilled vocal performance which mimics the complex beats of hip-hop music.

“But the very fact that humans are anatomically able to beatbox, raises questions about where that ability came from.

“We know now the answer could lie within the evolution of our ancestors.”

The researchers say the vocal control and coordination abilities of wild great apes have been underestimated compared to the focus on the vocal abilities of birds.

Hardus said: “Producing two sounds, exactly how birds produce song, resembles spoken language, but bird anatomy has no similarity to our own, so it is difficult to make links between birdsong, and spoken human language.”

The team says their findings, published in the journal PNAS Nexus, have implications for the vocal capabilities of our shared ancestors and for the evolution of human speech – as well as human beatboxing.

Dr. Lameira, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Warwick, added: “Now that we know this vocal ability is part of the great ape repertoire, we can’t ignore the evolutionary links.

“It could be possible that early human language resembled something that sounded more like beatboxing, before evolution organized language into the consonant – vowel structure that we know today.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

Edited by Kyana Jeanin Rubinfeld and Alberto Arellano

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