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Baboons Have Different "Accents" Depending On Who They Hang Out With

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Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockDec 17 2020, 15:46 UTC
Among Guinea baboons, it's who you know rather than who you are that decides your accent. Matt Gibson/Shutterstock.com

Among Guinea baboons, it's who you know rather than who you are that decides your accent. Matt Gibson/Shutterstock.com

New research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has discovered that baboons that spend most of their time together develop “accents” that differ from other social groups. The study looked at male baboons living in Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal to see how their calls varied depending on social groups and found that each group had vocalizations specific to their social circle.

Primates are known for their complex and sophisticated communication, and footage has shown how they’re able to convey messages across a group warning of danger when backup is needed. Some species are even known to copy the sounds of those closest to them, a bit like how we pick up certain words or ways of speaking from our friends.

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To find out if social interaction influences vocalizations in baboons, Dr Julia Fischer at the German Primate Center in Göttingen studied groups of Guinea baboons (Papio papio). These animals live in gangs that contain lots of smaller social circles, a bit like cliques, and each clique is made up of a male and several female mates. Unlike some animal societies, male baboons actually get on very well and will grunt at and groom each other as a sign of friendship.

Fischer decided to record these social grunts and compare them for frequency, length, and tone to see if or how the vocalizations between 27 males from two gangs differed. Sure enough, their results showed that grunts within a gang were much more similar to each other compared to those between gangs. Fischer suggests this is the result of baboons replicating the sounds of those around them as a means of building trust within social groups. The same behavior has been noted in humans as we’ll sometimes adapt our speech to “fit in” better, whether it’s trying to impress new friends or prospective employers.

The researchers also compared the similarity in vocalizations against the genetic relatedness of the baboons studied. Interestingly, social standing had more impact on the similarity of grunts than how closely males were genetically related. This demonstrates that the baboons’ “accents” were a product of social interaction and not just biological predisposition to sound a certain way.

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“Our findings add to the body of evidence that within species-specific constraints, subtle and potentially meaningful variation can be found in nonhuman primate vocalizations,” wrote the study authors. “Acoustic similarity did not correlate with genetic relatedness, suggesting that higher amounts of social interactions rather than genetic relatedness promote the observed vocal convergence.”

[H/T: New Scientist]


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