According to a new study published in the journal Current Biology and titled “Vocal Learning in the Functionally Referential Food Grunts of Chimpanzees”, chimpanzees have their own dialects but change them when they merge with other groups. They change their accents until their grunts sound the same.
Prior to this study, the ability to change vocalizations to assimilate into other social groups was believed to a trait only humans possessed. Katie Slocombe of the University of York, York, England notes:
“Our study shows that chimpanzee referential food calls are not fixed in their structure and that, when exposed to a new social group, chimpanzees can change their calls to sound more like their group mates.”
Research reveals that chimpanzees actually have unique grunts for specific kinds of foods. Other chimps understand what each one means. The investigative team analyzed the grunt for “apple”. They observed how the grunt changed over a period of three years when groups of chimpanzees merged at Edinburgh Zoo in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The scientists discovered that the higher-pitched calls of one group eventually converged with the lower-pitched grunts of the other groups as the chimpanzees became familiar with each other. Eventually the calls became identical.
Stuart Watson, also from the University of York, told the press: “We think it’s quite easy to hear how the two groups called in different ways for apples in 2010, and how by 2013 the Dutch individuals changed their grunts to sound more like Edinburgh individuals.”
As previously determined, there is only an “evolutionary distance” of five to seven million years between chimpanzees and human beings. The researchers believe that man’s “most recent common ancestor with chimpanzees” had a common significant “building block” of communicative language.
One of the study’s co-authors, Simon Townsend of the University of Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland reflected: “It would be really exciting to try and find out why chimpanzees are motivated to sound more similar to their group mates. Is it so that they can be better understood? Or is it just to sound more similar to their friends?”
Chimps Change Their Accents To Fit In