The Orangutans Speak

Kazoos may provide helpful clues

Back in my choir days, I remember our teacher stressing how humming wasn't a tight-lipped, harsh effect, like the sounds you make to annoy a sibling, but a light vibration against lightly-closed lips that almost tickles. The distinction was amazing, and it helps me to understand why researchers might use kazoos to understand how communication has evolved between species over the years. 

That's what they are doing with orangutans right now. Understanding how orangutans can use their own voice control with a kazoo is key for some scientists in learning how our speech has developed, but so does understanding the sounds they make already. Apes can mimic our noises and match pitch, but why can't they speak with us? When orangatans use the kazoo and other similar instruments, they demonstrate their ability to make sounds at will rather than just responding to a stimulus, which may help us better map human speech development.

What other interesting animal studies have you read this week? Share them in the chat.

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