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Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 Feb;18(2):60-2. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.10.013. Epub 2013 Nov 15.

Primate feedstock for the evolution of consonants.

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Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Sciencepark 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Pongo Foundation, Papenhoeflaan 91, 3421 XN Oudewater, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA.
School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, St Mary's Quad, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JP, UK; Department of Comparative Cognition, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


The evolution of speech remains an elusive scientific problem. A widespread notion is that vocal learning, underlined by vocal-fold control, is a key prerequisite for speech evolution. Although present in birds and non-primate mammals, vocal learning is ostensibly absent in non-human primates. Here we argue that the main road to speech evolution has been through controlling the supralaryngeal vocal tract, for which we find evidence for evolutionary continuity within the great apes.

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