(Source: 20th Century Fox)
But can they sing? And was Dr. Zaius involved?

Chorus: "He can speak, he can speak, he can speak!"
Troy McClure as Taylor: "I can singggg!"
"Planet of the Apes: The Musical" from The Simpsons epsiode "A Fish Called Selma"

A research team at the Max-Plank-Gesellschaft Institute's (MPI) Psycholinguistics department has analyzed recent discoveries on humans' close relatives -- the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and Denisovans (Denisova hominin) -- and offered a controversial hypothesis.  They propose that Neanderthals, and likely Denisovans had languages and that these human relatives likely spoke with humans during their interactions.

Recent DNA discoveries have cast new light on the interactions of humans and their relatives.

Once viewed as dumb and brooding hunter-gatherers, Neanderthals inhabited much of western Eurasia from 350,000 to 600,000 years ago, and later migrated back to Africa.  But new evidence shows that Neanderthals actually had larger adult brains than humans, a very similar genetic makeup, and advanced tool use.  What's more there is strong evidence they exchange culture -- trading with early humans -- and even more shockingly had sex with them, producing offspring.  Much of the interbreeding appeared to occur when humans and Neanderthals migrated back to Africa some 50,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Neanderthals interbred and traded with humans in Africa and Europe. [Image Source: AP]

The simplistic world-view was further shaken by the discovery of the Denisovans -- another ancient relative that remained unknown until archaeological finds and gene research in the latter half of the last decade.  Like Neanderthals, Denisovans appear to have enjoyed a prosperous interaction with the locals some 30,000-300,000 years ago.

The evidence of rich ongoing interbreeding with each group suggested that these genetic exchanges weren't examples of raping and pillaging.  There's strong evidence some humans on their own free will bedded these relatives intermixing their lines for long stretches of time.

Family tree
The human family tree is much more complex than previously thought. [Image Source: MPI]

MPI Professors Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson say that this indicates that early man must have been able to communicate with his early relatives; they must have been capable of speech.  They argue this hypothesis is further supported by the lack of discovery of a single or handful of "magic" genes that alone "create" the capacity for speech.

Rather they argue that speech evolved between the emergence of the Homo genus 1.8 million years ago and the emergence of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Humans common answer -- Homo heidelbergensis some 600,000 to 1.3 million years ago.

In a press release MPI writes, "This reassessment of the evidence goes against a saltationist scenario where a single catastrophic mutation in a single individual would suddenly give rise to language, and suggests that a gradual accumulation of biological and cultural innovations is much more plausible."

speech bubble
Humans might not have a monopoly on speech. [Image Source: Career Realism]

The researchers suggest that differences between European and Asian languages may be attributable to traces of lost Denisovan and Neanderthal languages that crept into the speech of the humans who interacted and interbred with them.  They suggest further work be done to model language spread with computer simulations and to compare the structural properties of the African (where humans interbred with Neanderthals) and non-African languages (where humans may have bred with Denisovans).

The pair have published [abstract] their paper in the journal Frontiers in Language Sciences.

Sources: Max-Plank-Gesellschaft Institute, Frontiers in Language Sciences

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