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Chimps Can Talk Too

So why don't they? - Researchers who are studying communication in animals, in order to improve their understanding of how language develops in humans, want to know: Why are we the only animals who talk?

If humans are genetically related to chimps, why did our brains develop the innate ability for language and speech while theirs did not? Scientists suspect that part of the answer to the mystery lies in a gene called FOXP2. When mutated, FOXP2 can disrupt speech and language in humans. A new study reveals major differences between how the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 work, perhaps explaining why language is unique to humans.

FOXP2 switches other genes on and off. Researcher Daniel Geschwind says, "We showed that the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 not only look different but function differently too. Our findings may shed light on why human brains are born with the circuitry for speech and language and chimp brains are not."

Because speech problems are common to both autism and schizophrenia, this discovery may also shed light on how these disorders disturb the brain's ability to process language. Meanwhile, in BBC News, Matt Walker reports that despite the fact that they're not saying "please" and "thank you" at meals, scientists HAVE seen chimpanzees in Africa use stone implements to chop their food into bite-sized pieces before eating it.

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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