Monkeys Take Turns Talking

Marmosets converse like humans

    Photo: Jan Zoetekouw / Shutterstock.com

Humans often take for granted that when they speak, others (ideally) wait for them to finish before responding. Surprisingly, this conversational turn-taking—talking, listening, replying—has not been observed in other primates, including our closest relatives, chimpanzees, who instead use gestures as the basis fore their communication.

Until recently. Researchers at Princeton University report that the Marmoset monkey exhibits similar communication style to humans when it comes to conversing. They monkeys don’t seem to have an actual language, reports Wired, but the timing of their calls suggests the foundations of human language.

When placed out of sight of one another, monkeys in one area would wait to respond until monkeys in another area finished calling, following “unspoken rules of conversational etiquette.”

This finding, reported in the journal Current Biology, suggests that human conversational turn-taking might have evolved via a similar route, although on a parallel branch of the evolutionary tree.

“If we don’t take turns, if we’re overlapping, it’s very difficult to understand each other,” said Princeton’s Asif Ghazanfar, who co-authored the study. “Turn-taking is foundational.”

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