Orangutan News: Study Shows that Orangutan can Produce Faux Speech

Photo: courtesy of Adriano Lameira, University of Amsterdam
Photo: courtesy of Adriano Lameira, University of Amsterdam

by Shari Rudavsky for INDYSTAR.com

Think we humans are so special because we have the ability to speak, using specific sounds to denote different meanings?

Well, maybe we’re not so special.

An Indianapolis Zoo researcher, working with a lead author from the University of Amsterdam, has found that at least one orangutan living in captivity can produce both consonant and vowel sounds at a rapid rate that while unintelligible to the human ear qualifies as “faux speech.”

“It’s remarkable that we’re finding an orangutan that’s producing that stream of sounds that matches what humans do,” said Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo’s vice president of Conservation, Science and Education.

The study appeared earlier this month in the online journal Plos One.

Primatologists have long believed that while a few great apes have been taught to use sign language, humans remained the only species with the physical flexibility to control and change their vocal sounds to communicate. When primates made sounds, it was thought, these noises were basically reflexive, involuntary responses, not deliberate ones.

Now, a 50-year-old orangutan named Tilda has turned those assumptions on end.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of INDYSTAR.com and can be read in its entirety here.

Dr. Rob Shumaker is a Board member of the Orangutan Conservancy.

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