Have you ever noticed the slight different in the way that humans talk versus animals? Besides the obvious use of language or accent, humans move their lips when they talk, whereas animals general just open their mouths and emit a sound. “Lip-smacking” is the scientific term to describe how humans move their lips when they talk. While scientists previously thought this was a phenomenon unique to humans, it looks like our not-so-distant neighbors, the orangutan have also been observed lip-smacking as well.
Research published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, reveals that orangutans can not only learn new calls, but these calls bare a striking similarity to human words. This development lends itself to the possibility that orangutans are learning to speak in the same way our human ancestors did. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?
The origin of how our speech developed has been a large puzzle for scientists, but lip-smacking in orangutans might just be the key to explain how the world’s languages came to be.
We have long known that orangutans share around 97 percent of the same DNA as humans, so it stands to reason that they could evolve and develop in a same way we have. Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who use tools and they experience complex emotions and living in social groups.
While thankfully we aren’t covered in orange hair (although who knows, it might give us a better shot against polar vortexes), it is important that we take a step back and recognize how similar we are to the other animals animals in the world around us.
We keep orangutans in zoos and sometimes even as pets, condemning them to a life outside of their natural habitats and social groups, something we would never want for ourselves. The orangutan species is on the verge of going extinct due to unchecked deforestation related to palm oil. Although this study does not indefinitely conclude that we can count on orangutans learning English anytime soon, it should make us all rethink the way we treat these animals and consider, if these animals could talk … would we like what they have to say about us?
Image source: Chem7/Flickr