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Proto-consonants were information-dense via identical bioacoustic tags to proto-vowels

Lameira, AR and Vicente, R and Alexandre, A and Campbell-Smith, G and Knott, C and Wich, SA and Hardus, HE (2017) Proto-consonants were information-dense via identical bioacoustic tags to proto-vowels. Nature Human Behaviour. ISSN 2397-3374

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Abstract

Why did our ancestors combine the first consonant- and 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 vs. proto-vowels before their combined use became universal. Close to 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 analyzed 4486 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 nonhuman primate voiced vowel-like calls, implying similar biological functions. Selection regimes between proto-consonants and -vowels were, thus, probably indistinguishable at the dawn of spoken language evolution. Our findings suggest that the first proto syllables or -words in our lineage probably constituted message reiterations, instead of messages of increasing intricacy.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Q Science > QH Natural history
Divisions: Natural Sciences and Psychology
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Ltd
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2017 09:13
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2017 23:50
DOI or Identification number: 10.1038/s41562-017-0044
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/5199

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