Proto-consonants were information-dense via identical bioacoustic tags to proto-vowels
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Why did our ancestors combine the first consonant- A nd vowel-like utterances to produce the first syllable or word? To answer this question, it is essential to know what constituted the communicative function of proto-consonants and of proto-vowels before their combined use became universal. Almost nothing is known, however, about consonant-like calls in the primate order1,2. Here, we investigate a large collection of voiceless consonant-like calls in nonhuman great apes (our closest relatives), namely orangutans (Pongo spp.). We analysed 4,486 kiss-squeaks collected across 48 individuals in four wild populations. Despite idiosyncratic production mechanics, consonant-like calls displayed information-dense content and the same acoustic signatures found in voiced vowel-like calls by nonhuman primates, implying similar biological functions. Selection regimes between proto-consonants and proto-vowels were thus probably indistinguishable at the dawn of spoken language evolution. Our findings suggest that the first proto-syllables or proto-words in our lineage probably constituted message reiterations, instead of messages of increasing intricacy.
Lameira , A R , Vicente , R , Alexandre , A , Campbell-Smith , G , Knott , C , Wich , S & Hardus , M E 2017 , ' Proto-consonants were information-dense via identical bioacoustic tags to proto-vowels ' , Nature Human Behaviour , vol. 1 , 0044 . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0044
Nature Human Behaviour
© 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved. This work has been made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created accepted version manuscript following peer review and as such may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0044
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