Monday, July 24, 2006

Monkey brains give language clues

There may be a reason why humans love watching and listening to monkeys chatter.

Macaque monkeys have a strangely human way of listening to the sounds of their mates, a study has found. When the primates call out to each other they make use of the brain regions used by humans for language processing, the research revealed.

The discovery supports the theory that the origins of language go back a long way, to a creature that pre-dated humans and modern monkeys.

Dr James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in the US, said: 'This finding brings us closer to understanding the point at which the building blocks of language appeared on the evolutionary timeline.

'While the fossil record cannot answer this question for us, we can turn to the here and now – through brain imaging of living non-human primates – for a glimpse into how language, or at least the neural circuitry required for language, came to be.'

While monkeys do not possess language, they can communicate signals about food, identity, or danger to other members of their species using cries and squawks.

In humans, the two main brain regions involved in language encoding are known as Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Broca's area is situated in the frontal lobe of the brain with Wernicke's area behind it.

Although monkeys are not able to perform the mental activities required for speaking human languages, their brains possess regions that are structurally similar to these two areas.

Story here.

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