In this week’s 6 Minute English: The bizarre call of the gelada monkey bears a surprising resemblance to human speech. Scientists are researching whether or not it might help us understand how early humans spoke.
Finn and Neil talk about the development of human speech, and make some silly noises.
This week’s question:
What do geladas eat?
Listen out for the answer at the end of the programme.
Finn: Hello, I’m Finn. This is 6 Minute English and I’m joined this week by Neil. Hello Neil.
Finn: Err, Neil?
Finn: Neil, are you OK?
Finn: Actually that wasn’t Neil, you’ll be glad to know, he is safe and sound here in the studio with me.
Neil: Hello. Yes, that wonderful sound you just heard was in fact a gelada – a kind of monkey – which we’ll be hearing more from later in the programme.
Finn: Yes. Could the gelada monkey provide an important clue about the development of human language? But first, as always, we have a question. Neil – could you please tell me what geladas eat?
Neil: Well, I can see you’re trying to trap me with ice-cream here, because the name of the monkey sounds like the Italian word for ice-cream. So, I’m not that stupid, I’m going to go for ‘b’, grass.
Finn: Wonderful knowledge of Italian there Neil. Don’t worry I’m not trying to make a monkey out of you – I’m not trying to make you look stupid. Now let’s listen to the gelada monkey again. How would we describe that sound?
(Gelada monkey gurgling)
Neil: Well, it sounds a bit like a gargle – a gargling noise.
Finn: Yes, it does. Gargle is a great word because it’s an example of what we call onomatopoeia – a word which sounds like its meaning. Neil, gargle is the word, could you please demonstrate a gargle?
Neil: (Neil gargles)
Finn: Very good. Neil is gargling – and the sound it makes is a gargle. That’s lovely!
Neil: Can I stop now?
Finn: Yes, you can stop now. Thank you very much. How about another quick example of onomatopoeia:
A click. Listen again. Click.
Neil: Or this, oops:
Finn: Now, anyway, let’s get back to the gargling monkey. Behind the fun sound is some serious science – about the origins, or beginnings, of human speech.
Neil: Scientists from the University of Michigan believe that these gelada calls might be similar to the primitive noises – early and simple sounds – that our evolutionary ancestors made, that is – what we, humans, were before we developed into modern humans.
Finn: Dr Thore Bergman, who was the main author of the study, said that geladas make sounds which have “speech-like properties” – they have qualities which are like… speech.
Neil: And the interesting thing is – most monkeys and apes can only make the most basic noises because they don’t have the vocal anatomy required – that is they don’t have the physical mouth and throat parts needed – to make more complex sounds.
Finn: All other monkeys and apes can do is called lip smacking – rapidly moving their jaws, lips and their tongues. And I think, Neil, it’s time for another demonstration please.
Neil: (Neil making lip smacking noises)
Finn: Lip smacking, very nice.
Neil: The gelada, on the other hand, is the only one that can produce vocalisations – or sounds from the vocal chords in the throat while doing this.
Finn: That’s it! So – lip smacking and vocalisations – together are maybe a possible step between the sounds of other monkeys – and human speech.
Neil: Though there is a question – the scientists don’t know yet what the noises mean exactly. They believe the noises might be used the way humans use small talk – chatting about things that are not really important – to help the monkey societies feel more closely bonded or connected.
Finn: That’s right, so, small talk, things like saying: “Fine day, isn’t it?”
Neil: “Not bad, not bad. How are the kids, Finn?”
Finn: “Oh yeah, keeping me awake all night.”
Neil: “Oh yes, I know the feeling.”
Finn: Or as you would say in gelada:
Finn: I think that’s quite enough monkey business for one day – quite enough of us being silly, wouldn’t you say? Neil, earlier I asked you what geladas eat. Was it:
Neil: And I am not stupid so I’m going to go for ‘b’ grass.
Finn: And you’re right, they are herbivores, they eat grass. Anyway, before we go let’s run through the words and phrases one more time.
Finn: Thanks Neil. Sadly, it’s time to go. So please join us again soon for more 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English.
gargle: the noise made when liquid is moved around at the back of the throat
onomatopoeia: (using) words which sound like their meaning
primitive noises: early and simple sounds
evolutionary ancestors: early types of plant or animal before they developed into their modern forms
speech-like properties: qualities that are like speech
vocal anatomy: the physical structure of the inside of the mouth and throat
lip smacking: making sounds with the lips, tongue and teeth without using the voice
vocalisations: sounds made using the voice
small talk: conversation that is not really important, but helps people who do not know each other well pass the time
monkey business: behaviour that is silly, unacceptable or dishonest
6 Minute English – Talking monkeys Transcript Video
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