Whistling Orangutan Clue to Language Evolution

on January 3, 2009

National Geographic News: “Whistling Orangutan May Hint at Language Evolution” Is that the sound of a wolf whistle or an orangutan whistle we hear?

An orangutan at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has a talent that shouldn’t seem surprising for humans: it can whistle, and has been doing so for about two decades.

According to the zoo’s Lisa Stevens, curator for great apes and giant pandas, the orangutan, named Bonnie, was not trained to whistle. It presumably picked up the trick from a whistling human, notes animal keeper Erin Stromberg, co-author of a study on the Bonnie’s talent. Stevens is steadfast that Bonnie “spontaneously developed” the capability.

Stevens is steadfast that Bonnie “spontaneously developed” the capability.

Stromberg’s study “suggests that the sounds she makes could hold clues about the origins of human language,” reports National Geographic News.

But National Geographic News also reports that orangutans are known for imitating humans, humorously noting that Bonnie “sometimes sweeps up after herself,” literally aping her zookeepers. And Serge Wich of the Great Ape Trust, the study’s lead author, notes that Indonesian orangutans have been seen pretending to wash clothes!

According to Wich, scientists have known that orangutans are also able to imitate “motor skills,” but the vocalization is a new discovery. “Those things are very important because they give us clues to understanding the evolution of human speech,” he claimed in a lecture at the University of Zurich.

W. Tecumseh Fitch of the University of St. Andrews voices support for Wich’s evolutionary perspective. Fitch says the research “provides further verification of an old idea: that apes have complex, voluntary control over the mouth, lips, and tongue, just like us.” It’s control over the larynx and specifically the vocal cords that‘s missing.

For evolutionists—who necessarily believe speech evolved, even without finding the missing link of evidence—the whistling orangutan spurs on their belief that, somehow, human ancestors acquired the necessary physical and mental abilities to evolve language. Any objective evaluation, however, would show that a whistling orangutan is akin to a single drop in a bucket of evidence evolutionists would need to prove that language evolved. The evidence is all in the minds of evolutionists.

Not only that, but the University of Wisconsin’s Charles Snowdon brings up another point that disputes this “evidence” for the evolution of speech. National Geographic News reports that, according to Snowdon, Bonnie’s whistles are less sophisticated that the imitations made by “some birds and even dolphins.” He continues:

“There has been lots of controversy over whether non-human primates can learn vocalizations or can modify vocalizations. Until now there has been little evidence of direct imitation of vocalizations by a primate. The really interesting question is why it is so difficult to find good evidence of vocal imitation.”

Of course, certain parrot species are known for their accurate impersonations of human language—but we don’t hear evolutionists making much noise about that capability. As with animal intelligence, evolutionists seem to point to apes as though they are nearly human when, in fact, there are many examples of animals with incredible abilities—all testaments to God’s design.


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