One theory developed to explain why chimpanzees, etc., don’t speak depends on the claim that before speech can emerge, the larynx must be in a low position to produce differentiated vowels:
Since speech can be considered as being the cornerstone of the human species, it is not surprising that two pairs of researchers, in the 1930s-1950s, had tested the possibility of teaching a home-raised chimpanzee to speak, at the same time and under the same conditions as their baby. All their experiments ended in failure. To explain this result, in 1969 in a long series of articles a US researcher, Philip Lieberman, proposed the theory of the descended larynx (TDL). By comparing the human vocal tract to monkeys, this researcher has shown that these have a small pharynx, related to the high position of their larynx, whereas in humans, the larynx is lower. This anatomic block reportedly prevents differentiated vowel production, which is present in all the world’s languages and necessary for spoken language. Despite some criticisms and many acoustic observations that contradict the TDL, it would come to be accepted by most primatologists.
More recently, articles on monkeys’ articulatory capacities have shown that they may have used a system of proto-vowels. Considering the acoustic cavities formed by the tongue, jaw and lips (identical in primates and humans), they showed that production of differentiated vocalizations is not a question of anatomy but relates to control of articulators. The data used to establish the TDL came in fact from cadavers, so they could not reveal control of this nature…
… if the emergence of articulated speech is no longer dependent on the descent of the larynx, which took place about 200,000 years ago, scientists can now envisage much earlier speech emergence, as far back as at least 20 million years, a time when our common ancestor with monkeys lived, who already presumably had the capacity to produce contrasted vocalizations.CNRS, “Speech could be older than we thought” at ScienceDaily
Paper. (open access)
They’re even willing to conjecture that speech began as far back as twenty million years? So, speech could be very old so long as something like monkeys did it in the past? Despite the fact that nothing like monkeys does it today? Naturalism makes people confused.
File this with: Researchers: Apes are just like us! And we’re not doing the right things to make them start behaving that way…
Are apes entering the Stone Age?