Chimpanzees: Alarm calls with intent?
Major research led by University of York scientists has discovered remarkable similarities between the production of vocalisations of wild chimpanzees and human language.
Dr Katie Slocombe and Dr Anne Schel, of the Department of Psychology at York, led the project in Uganda which examined the degree of intentionality wild chimpanzees have over their alarm calls.
The results of their research, which demonstrated that chimpanzee alarm calls show numerous hallmarks of intentional communication, is published in PLOS ONE. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Many scientists consider non-human primate vocalisations to be a simple read-out of emotion (e.g. alarm calls are just an expression of fear) and argue they are not produced intentionally, in sharp contrast to both human language and great ape gestural signals. This has led some scientists to suggest that human language evolved from a primitive gestural communication system, rather than a vocal communication system.
The study challenges this view and shows that chimpanzees do not just alarm call because they are frightened of a predator; instead, they appear to produce certain alarm calls intentionally in a tactical and goal directed way.