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Louis-Jean Boë GIPSA-lab, UGA–CNRS, Grenobl

03/27/2020 @ 11:00 - 14:00

The Dawn of Speech is Older Than We Thought

The production of speech repurposes an entire set of anatomical features that are primarily used for vital functions: breathing, sucking, chewing and swallowing.  Hypotheses about the dawn of speech try to determine the period during which our ancestors began to produce, by exaptation, differentiated vocalizations associated with different social relationships. Anatomical and acoustic analyses of baboon vocalizations tend to show that the sounds themselves and the articulatory gestures that produce them are comparable to those of human vowels. If we interpret these vocalizations as audio fossils, the beginnings of speech would date back more than 20 million years, to the period when our ape ancestors separated from old world monkeys. The recent work that underlies this hypothesis invalidates a long controversy that motivated several multidisciplinary teams. By breaking the anatomical lock that claimed to restrict production of non-human primates’ vocalizations, they have opened the doors to many avenues of research that had previously seemed blocked.

L.J. Boë, T.R. Sawallis, J. Fagot, P. Badin, G. Barbier, G. Captier, L. Ménard, J.-L. Heim, J.L. Schwartz (2019) Which way to the dawn of speech?: Reanalyzing half a century of debates and data in light of speech science. Science Advances, 5, 12, eaaw3916 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw3916

F. Berthommier, L.J., Boë, A. Meguerditchian, T.R. Sawallis, G. Captier (2018) Comparative Anatomy of the baboon and human vocal tracts: Renewal of methods, data, and hypotheses. In Origins of Human Language: Continuities and Discontinuities with Nonhuman Primates. Ed. by L.J. Boë, J. Fagot, P. Perrier, J.L. Schwartz. Berne: Peter Lang.
DOI :https://doi.org/10.3726/b12405

L.J. Boë, F. Berthommier, T. Legou, G. Captier, C. Kemp, T. R. Sawallis, Y. Becker, A. Rey, J. Fagot (2017) Evidence of a vocalic proto‑system in the baboon Papio papio suggests pre-hominin speech precursors. PLOS ONE 12, e0169321 doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169321



11:00 - 14:00
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