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Researchers: Chimps may have the ability to understand language too - humans just get more practice
2011-11-30 0:00

By Rob Waugh | DailyMail.co.uk

What separates man from the apes?

Scientists have always thought that one of the basic differences between us and our closest evolutionary cousins, chimpanzees, has been the ability to perceive and process speech.

But that might not be the case.

Scientists now suspect that a ’common ancestor’ of chimps and humans evolved with the capacity for speech - and the human ability to perceive and process it might be more to do with being exposed to language when we are very young than any innate ability.

What separates us from the apes, speech-wise, might just be practice.
Lisa Heimbauer, a researcher at Georgia State University’s Language Research Centre, said: ’I think our results just reinforce the fact that experience matters.

’Humans maybe do not perceive speech because they are human, but instead because of the tremendous amount of experience they have with it from birth.’

Previously, the human brain has been thought to be uniquely evolved to perceive what is and isn’t speech.

New research with a 25-year-old chimp, Panzee, has shown that Panzee can ’interpret’ highly distorted speech sounds - in a way similar to humans.
Chimps share 99 per cent of their DNA with humans - and recent research said that only ’junk DNA’ separates us from our cousins.

The research - using human speech patterns distorted to near-unrecognisable fashion - could lead to a new understanding of how children learn to understand language.

Panzee can also interpret symbols, and can understand more than 100 spoken and digitised words - including a symbol for his own name.

Article from: dailymail.co.uk

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