Learned vocal and breathing behavior in an enculturated gorilla
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We describe the repertoire of learned vocal and breathing-related behaviors (VBBs) performed by the enculturated gorilla Koko. We examined a large video corpus of Koko and observed 439 VBBs spread across 161 bouts. Our analysis shows that Koko exercises voluntary control over the performance of nine distinctive VBBs, which involve variable coordination of her breathing, larynx, and supralaryngeal articulators like the tongue and lips. Each of these behaviors is performed in the context of particular manual action routines and gestures. Based on these and other findings, we suggest that vocal learning and the ability to exercise volitional control over vocalization, particularly in a multimodal context, might have figured relatively early into the evolution of language, with some rudimentary capacity in place at the time of our last common ancestor with great apes.
KeywordsBreath control Gorilla Koko Multimodal communication Primate vocalization Vocal learning
We are grateful to videographer Dr. Ronald Cohn and the Gorilla Foundation for providing the video on which this article is based, and for their permission to post the video clips in Supplementary Information. We are also grateful to Katarina Noelle for her assistance with the research.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All the procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.
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