Monkey see, monkey groove.
New research has found that orangutans (which are indeed apes, not monkeys) possess beatboxing skills as good, if not more impressive than their primate cousins — us — and it may be a huge clue to the evolution of human speech.
“Humans rarely produce voiced and voiceless noises simultaneously. The exception is beatboxing, a skilled vocal performance which mimics the complex beats of hip-hop music,” co-author Madeleine Hardus said.
“But the very fact that humans are anatomically able to beatbox, raises questions about where that ability came from. We know now the answer could lie within the evolution of our ancestors.”
To find out more, two populations of vocal orangutans along with their rhythmic patterns were studied for 3,800 hours in Borneo in Southeast Asia.
“Humans use the lips, tongue and jaw to make the unvoiced sounds of consonants while activating the vocal folds in the larynx with exhaled air to make the voiced, open sounds of vowels,” study lead, Dr. Adriano Lameira, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Warwick in England, said.
“Orangutans are also capable of producing both types of sounds — and both at once,” Lameira added.
It was also observed that the males would make different noises from the females and that both sexes were capable of making multiple sets of sounds at once — just like a beatboxer.
“The fact that two separate populations of orangutans were observed making two calls simultaneously, is proof that this is a biological phenomenon,” added Hardus.
Now Lameira and Hardus are looking into “the evolutionary links” that human speech may have actually started closer to bustin’ a beat than it did with phonetic pronunciation.
“It could be possible that early human language resembled something that sounded more like beatboxing before evolution organized language into the consonant–vowel structure that we know today,” Lameira said.