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Monkeys Have Accents Too!

We’ve all done it…whether you’re a New Yorker laughing at a Southerner, a Georgia peach snickering at Brooklyn-ese, or a Midwesterner aping the broad vowels of a Londoner, we all find accents intriguing…and funny…and fascinating…and sometimes, we find them downright sexy!

Although accents may not have the affect on animals that they do on us, scientists at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute have found that macaque monkeys actually have accents! And just like humans, these accents seem to derive from where they live.

Monkey vocalizations in the wild are not actually viewed as language, although they do use the sounds to maintain contact. But according to Nobuo Masataka at the Primate Research Institute, the macaques share the human ability to modify their vocalizations.

Scientists studied two groups of macaques that came from the same basic gene pool. Separated in 1956, the two groups have since lived hundreds of miles apart and have had no contact with each other.

One group lives in a forested area and other inhabits a more open environment with little vegetation. The calls of both groups were recorded over an eight year period (1990-1998) and after comparing results, scientists concluded that each group was vocalizing differently.

Both groups were vocalizing at a frequency different from the other. The group living in the forest area was “calling” at tone approximately 110 hertz higher than the group living in the less lush environment.

There’s a very practical reason for this higher tone. Nobuo Masataka says, "Higher sound is likely to transmit more effectively in the forest than lower sound.”

Noted psychologist and author Frans de Waal went even further with his interpretation of the findings. "It shows greater vocal flexibility than assumed for primates before—perhaps even cultural variation, such as in human dialects," he stated.

Although monkey accents may not be a source of amusement to the monkey world at large, there indeed may be other implications that we could never have imagined. Perhaps a male macaque from the mountains will one day meet a female macaque from the flatlands…and find the other’s accent…well… sexy!

Sources: Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, National Geographic

Macaques utter what researchers have dubbed coo calls to maintain vocal contact with each another. Recordings of these calls taken over an eight-year period show that macaques living hundreds of miles apart "speak" at different frequencies.


Researchers at the institute recorded the coo calls of two groups of macaques that used to be part of the same population but have lived apart since 1956. The two groups are more than 434 miles (700 kilometers) apart and have had no contact with each other since their separation. The island group lives in an evergreen forest, the Ohira monkeys reside in an open, gravelly range with little vegetation.

Recordings from both groups were taken intermittently between 1990 and 1998. The monkeys usually produce these sounds in relaxed situations, such as when feeding, grooming, or resting.
The result showed that the Yakushima monkeys had a tone about 110 hertz higher, on average, than the Mount Ohira group.

"Higher sound is likely to transmit more effectively in the forest than lower sound," Masataka explained.
"This exciting new study suggests that monkeys from the same genetic stock may, in a couple of decades, develop different call features," noted psychologist Frans B.M. de Waal said.

"It shows greater vocal flexibility than assumed for primates before—perhaps even cultural variation, such as in human dialects."


Source: Kyoto University, National Geographic

 
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