For more than a century it has been noted that the adult human vocal tract differs from that of other mammals, in that the resting position of the larynx is much lower in humans. While animals habitually breathe with the larynx inserted into the nasal cavity, adult humans are unable to do this. This anatomical difference has been cited as an important factor limiting the vocal potential of nonhuman animals, because the low larynx of humans allows a wider range of vocal tract shapes and thus formant patterns than is available to other species. However, it is not clear that the static anatomy of dead animals provides an accurate guide to the phonetic potential of the living animal’s vocal tract. Here I present X-ray video observations of four mammal species (dogs Canis familiaris, goats Capra hircus, pigs Sus scrofa and cotton-top tamarins Sagunius oedipus). In all four species, the larynx was lowered from the nasopharynx, and the velum was closed, during loud calls. In dogs this temporary lowering was particularly pronounced. Although preliminary, these results suggest that the nonhuman vocal tract is more flexible than previously supposed, and that static postmortem anatomy provides an incomplete guide to the phonetic potential of nonhuman animals. The implications of these findings for theories of speech evolution are discussed.
Dr. W. Tecumseh Fitch
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Harvard University and Program in Speech and Hearing Science (Harvard/MIT), 33 Kirkland Street, Room 982
Cambridge, MA 02138 (USA), Tel. +1 617 496-6575
Fax +1 617 496-8279, E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Received: Received: November 1, 1999
Accepted: February 14, 2000
Number of Print Pages : 14
Number of Figures : 6, Number of Tables : 0, Number of References : 29
Phonetica (International Journal of Phonetic Science)
Founded 1957 by E. Zwirner
Vol. 57, No. 2-4, Year 2000 (Cover Date: April-December 2000)
Journal Editor: Klaus Kohler, Kiel
ISSN: 0031–8388 (print), 1423–0321 (Online)
For additional information: http://www.karger.com/journals/pho
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