The Gibbon of the Opera
August 22, 2012 • By
An ability long considered uniquely human—manipulating our vocal mechanism to make loud, beautiful sounds—turns out to have been mastered long ago by apes.
What does a soprano have in common with an ape?
Sure, it sounds like one of a long line of soprano jokes (presumably with the word “Wagner” in the punch line). But it’s a serious question, with a surprising answer: Their vocal techniques are virtually identical.
New research from Japan reveals the same technique it took Renee Fleming years to master comes quite naturally to a gibbon. An ability we thought of as uniquely human is, in fact, something we share with at least one other species.
“Our speech was thought to have evolved through specific modifications in our vocal anatomy,” said Dr. Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute. “However, we’ve shown how the gibbons’ distinctive song uses the same vocal mechanics as soprano singers, revealing a fundamental similarity with humans.”
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