The One Thing That Prevents Monkeys From Speaking Like Humans

So it turns out that The Planet of the Apes could actually happen…

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Image 20th Century Fox

The Planet Of The Apes posits a world where hyper-evolved monkeys are the dominant species capable of thinking and speaking like humans.

It’s an idea that draws inspiration from a theory first proposed by Charles Darwin, who believed that the only reason primates are unable to talk like us was because of a lack of brain power.

In the past, experts have spoken out against this idea, with one group of scientists from the 1960s claiming that the lack of speech was down to differences in vocal anatomy.

However, a new study from researchers working at both Princeton and the University of Vienna has backed up Darwin’s theory that speech is actually the result of the unique evolution and construction of our brains.

“Despite repeated attempts, no non-human primates have ever been trained to produce speech sounds, not even chimpanzees raised from birth in human homes,” Professor Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna explained.

“Humans appear to be the only primates with a capacity to flexibly control their vocalisations and to integrate respiration, phonation, and vocal tract movements in an intricate manner as required for speech.”


Using X-ray videos, the researchers were able to trace the movements of a macaque test subject’s vocal anatomy like the tongue, lips and larynx.

What they discovered was that these monkeys possessed all the necessary vocal anatomy to create speech sounds but ultimately lacked the “speech-read brain to control it.”

“The key conclusion from our study is that the basic primate vocal production apparatus is easily capable of producing five clearly distinguishable vowels (for example, those in the English words “bit,” “bet,” “bat,” “but,” and “bought”)” Dr Fitch noted.

“Five vowels are the worldwide norm for human languages, and many of the world’s languages make do with only three vowels.”

“We do not of course argue that a talking macaque would sound precisely the same as a human or that a macaque could create every possible vowel,” he added.

“We conclude that if a macaque monkey had a brain capable of vocal learning and combinatoric operations over speech sounds, its vocal tract would be able to produce clearly intelligible speech.”

The main takeaway, however, was the fact that the importance of human vocal anatomy for speech had been entirely overestimated.

All of which means that, should some sort of (at this point entirely fictional) super brain drug arrive on the market, the likes of Caesar could one day rise up and strike down us humans.

That’s another Planet of the Apes reference, in case you missed it.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.