Chimpanzees have an exceptional ability to make complex sounds. The team of scientists has identified nearly 400 unique sequences that describe a complete communication system in this primate very close to humans.

“If they take human language for granted, they won’t speak,” warns evolutionary biologist Cédric Girard-Bhutto, lead author of a study published Monday in Natural Communication Biology. But chimpanzees have an exceptional ability to combine low-intensity calls and “twelve simple voices” into at least 390 distinct lines.

This type of syntax, the meaning of which remains to be determined, is associated with two to ten cries. “We have some ideas about the meaning of certain rows, one of which, for example, is exclusively related to the construction of the nest and has nothing to do with the meaning of the calls taken in isolation”, explains to AFP the CNRS researcher at the Institute. Cognitive sciences Mark Generot.

The team, along with some of its members, partnered with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to work on nearly 5,000 records made with 46 wild adult chimpanzees in Toy National Park’s ivory reserve. .


The most common of the twelve chimpanzee voice types includes the “hoo”, which is associated with or without choking, such as barking or barking. They are well known to experts and their importance can vary depending on the severity. The ‘hou’ associated with the alarm call is louder and softer than that associated with rest,” says Mr. Girard-Bhutto. The “hoo” associated with suffocation is used, for example, to identify individuals.

Some animals have a rich “vocabulary”, while great ape species have 38 types of calls. “We can define chimpanzee vocal cords, they’re innate, they’re defined,” Girard-Bhutto said, but species with more complex social lives may have found a way to “create new meanings.” . It develops their communication skills.

The study shows that a third of the voices are lines connecting several of the twelve calls, the whole range of which has been used at one time or another. He also established the concept of a queue, with some calls always or almost always in the same ‘pigram’ position, a queue connecting two calls. Some pictograms are reused, perhaps as keywords, in long lines, with five or six calls.