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Chimpanzees Learn Local Language After Moving

Feb 09, 2015 02:36 PM EST

Chimpanzees are apparently pretty proficient linguists - probably far more so than most humans can call themselves. Researchers have unveiled evidence that these clever great apes can even adapt to a new dialect or language depending on where they are, picking up new names for things after moving to a new region.

That's at least according to a new study recently published in the journal Current Biology, which details how the grunts and calls of chimpanzees can vary from region to region. Interestingly, when a chimp is relocated, he can quickly pick up the calls specific to that region.

Now, Simon Townsend, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Zurich who led the study, recently told BioScholar how he and a number of experts from the University of York observed the behavior of a group of adult chimpanzees from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands after they were relocated to the Edinburgh Zoo.

The experts had previously noted how these animals appeared to have different calls to represent the same things, reflecting a different "dialect" so to speak of chimpanzee call. Nature World News previously reported how scientists are learning that these calls have more complex meaning than once thought.

In this latest study, it was revealed that after about three years in their new environment, the relocated chimps started using calls that "very much resembled the grunt calls produced by the Edinburgh chimpanzees."

Townsend noted that in the Netherlands chimps continued to prefer certain apples in particular - ones different than what the Edinburgh chimps liked. However, their call to let others know when they found apples changed to resemble the Edinburgh call.

According to Townsend, this is evidence that chimpanzees are capable of actively changing and socially learning the structure of meaningful, object-specific calls. In this case to say "Hey! I Found some good apples over here!"

That, he said, "suggests that our common ancestor that lived more than 7 million years ago also possessed this ability."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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