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Study finds monkeys have the power to speak (and they’d sound utterly terrifying)

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Chris Sayer
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Chances are you’ve already had your “Oooh, wasn’t Planet Earth 2 good last night” chat with your colleagues. James on reception loved the peregrine falcons in New York. Dear old Babs from the desk opposite couldn’t get enough of those crafty raccoons in Toronto. Even Big Al the delivery guy, as he dropped off your morning stationary order, was sporting the red eyes of a man who’d spent the evening weeping at the turtle scene.

But you, you loved those little monkeys in Jaipur. Jumping around, causing untold havoc, robbing street traders of their wares. You were clapping like a giddy lunatic at every drainpipe climb and snaffled packet of crisps. Loved the lot of them, didn’t you.

But your opinion of the primates might be about to change. Big time. 

Macaques, the very same thieving suckers that Sir David Attenborough’s team filmed in last night’s episode, have the physical capacity to speak in language, according to a study published today in Science Advances

According to the study, the researchers “used X-ray videos to capture and then trace the movements of the different parts of a macaque's vocal anatomy--such as the tongue, lips and larynx--during a number of orofacial behaviors”. Then using a computer model of the monkey’s vocal tract, it was discovered that a macaque’s anatomy could, in theory, “produce comprehensible vowel sounds--and even full sentences--with its vocal tract if it had the neural ability to speak.”

And then the fun began. Thanks to some technological witchcraft that we’re not going to even begin to try and understand, the data was used to create an audio example of the monkey talking. 

might

will

The resulting one-second simulation sounds like a snippet from the most aggressive Norwegian death metal album of the year. It sounds like a man’s final death rattle as he chokes on his minestrone soup. It sounds like the monster you dreamed lived in your wardrobe as a kid. it sounds like nightmares.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s what science believes a macaque saying “Will you marry me” would sound like. 

You can ramp up the terror in the video below, too. You may want to splash some holy water on your screen afterwards, mind.

Besides from mentally scarring anyone with the cajones to listen, there was a purpose to the test. Researchers concluded that perhaps "human speech stems mainly from the unique evolution and construction of our brains, and is not linked to vocalization-related anatomical differences between humans and primates." 

In non-expert language; the key to the development of the human language as we know it is down to a combination of the ability to mess about with vocal noises and a brain sophisticated enough to remember and interpret those sounds.

But far more importantly, all we know is, the great Jim Carrey was talking in macaque long before the scientists were...  

Via popsci.com

Image: Xinhua News Agency/REX/Shutterstock

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Chris Sayer

Chris Sayer is a freelance journalist and editor based in London. Chris has interviewed some of the biggest names in entertainment and travelled the world doing an all manner of adventures for lots of brilliant magazines. He writes for Shortlist about booze but would probably prefer we let him write about fishing instead. Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisSayer00

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