Podcast puppets: If animals could talk

Podcast puppets: If animals could talk


First up we have a story on talking monkeys. Why can’t monkeys talk? What would they say if they could? And most importantly, what would they sound like? Dave, did you have an imagined monkey voice in your head, before hearing the clip we are about to play? I guess, Cesear from Planet of the Apes. Although I know he’s not a monkey –he is a chimpanzee. Something a little deep, a little guttural, maybe. I had the monkey butler voice in my head, The smooth, British monkey butler voice. Ok, so now I’m going to play the clip Will you marry me? That’s what it sounds like have you heard it? Yes. So, your idea of what a monkey voice sounded like– it wasn’t creepy, beyond the grave–type marriage proposal, like we just heard. Why does this sound the way it does? Where did the research team come up with this voice? This all goes back to this question of why can’t our closest primate relatives — chimps, bonobos, even monkeys — why can’t they talk? And for a long time, scientists thought well maybe they just don’t have the right vocal anatomy to talk. Maybe their vocal cords aren’t arranged in the right way or whatever. But that isn’t satisfying — especially when you consider that animals like parrots and elephants can make noises actually very similar to human speech and they have a radically different anatomy than we do and that a lot of our primate relatives do. So the alternate explanation is that their brains aren’t controlling their physiology the way our brains control our physiology. Right. The researchers tried to figure out which was the case. They turned to a long-tail macaque named Emiliano and they didn’t ask him to talk. but what they did do is they had him sit in a chair and they asked him to do a bunch of different things like: eat, yawn, a variety of vocalizations, and lip smacks. While he was doing this they shot x-ray video of him. And then what they did with this x-ray video is they actually used it to reconstruct his vocal anatomy. How he created sounds. And then they fed this into a computer program and they had this computer program say the audio that you just played: Will you marry me? Based on that they concluded that yes monkeys theoretically could talk like people. Right. I listened to the human version of this. so they did something similar with people. I’ll play it: Will you marry me? It doesn’t sound that much different. So this isn’t really saying monkeys sound like — ghostly voices. It’s just –this is the best the computer simulation can do with those components? Exactly. Fundamentally what it’s showing in the very least – we can argue about the quality of the recording but it shows that at least monkeys could theoretically produce these types of sounds. And if heard them, we would be able to understand what they were saying.

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