A recent study has found that "baby talk" isn't limited to
just humans. Bonobos, humanity's closest relatives and known for being chatty,
communicate similarly to babies.
The endangered apes found only in the Democratic Republic of
Congo frequently communicate with "peeps." They keep they mouths closed and
release a high-pitched sound. Bonobos do this in positive contexts when they're
eating, negative contexts when there is a predator nearby and neutral contexts
when they're resting.
The sounds are similar to "baby talk," noises that aren't
real words that no one understands. This new connection between humans and
bonobos is one of many. They laugh and scream like us, and they play with each
other. Bonobos also live in communities and form bonds with the members.
Zanna Clay of the University of Birmingham's School of
Psychology led a group into the Democratic Republic of Congo to study wild
bonobos and learn more about their "peeps." The community had 39 apes, and the
researchers recorded "peeps" as well as what the apes were doing at the time.
"When I studied the bonobos in their native setting in
Congo, I was struck by how frequent their peeps were, and how many different
contexts they produce them in," Clay told CNN. "It became apparent
that because we couldn't always differentiate between peeps, we needed to
understand the context to get to the root of their communication."
The results of the study suggest that bonobos can
communicate with the same sound, using a range of emotions, which is called
"functional flexibility." Before this study, researchers believed that only
humans were capable of "functional flexibility." The other main type of
communication is "functionally fixed," which can be crying, screaming or
laughing. It depends on emotion.
The researchers want to continue their study to confirm
their current findings. Further research on bonobos could possibly shed light
on the evolution of human speech.
"It appears that the more we look, the more similarity
we find between animals and humans," Clay told CNN.