Runt yak wahoo : baboon speak by Caralyn KEMP (BLRI)
Primates vocalise to maintain contact with conspecifics, warn of predators, alert group members to food and to advertise territory, sexual availability and size, but we know surprisingly little about how and why these calls are produced. Can they be varied and is this context dependent? Are these calls vocal responses to emotional states or can they be produced voluntarily? How does the production of these calls compare to human speech? Studying these questions not only helps us to understand what our closest relatives are saying, but also helps us to understand the evolution of our own speech. As part of a larger study considering these questions, I am examining the vocalisations of a captive group of Guinea baboons at the Primate Cognition and Behavior Platform in Rousset. The main goal of this aspect of the project is to produce a large-scale database in order to 1) characterise the vocal repertoire of this baboon species, 2) determine the acoustic features of the vocalisations, and 3) test the descriptive adequacy of existing categories. Determining the precise repertoire of baboon vocalisations will allow us to specify the 'acoustic space' that the vocal track of baboons can produce and how this compares to human vowel production. Taking into consideration the social context in which these vocalisations are produced and how specific situations alter vocal production, we aim to determine whether the baboons are capable of producing these calls voluntarily.