Monthly Archive

Speech – Language in the News: From Grunting To Gabbing – Why Humans Can Talk

16th August, 2010

Thanks to our friends at CASANA/Apraxia-Kids for bringing this story to our attention!
Most of us do it every day without even thinking about it, yet talking is a uniquely human ability. Not only do humans have evolved brains that process and produce language and syntax, but we also can make a range of sounds and tones that we use to form hundreds of thousands of words.
To make these sounds — and talk — humans use the same basic apparatus that chimps have: lungs, throat, voice box, tongue and lips. But we’re the ones singing opera and talking on the phone. That is because over thousands of years, humans have evolved a longer throat and smaller mouth better suited for shaping sound.
Vocal Acrobatics
Humans have flexibility in the mouth, tongue and lips that lets us form a wide range of precise sounds that chimps simply can’t produce, and some have developed this complex voice instrument more than others. Take opera tenor Gran Wilson. He has toured the world singing and now teaches at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Towson University. In a split second, Wilson can go from his talking voice to full vibrato, enunciating each sound with graceful clarity as his voice fills the room.
He can do that because of his exceptional control of the Rube Goldberg-like apparatus that makes speech — from lungs to larynx to lips. It works like this: When we talk or sing, we release controlled puffs of air from our lungs through our larynx, or voice box. The larynx is about the size of a walnut. In men, you can see it — it’s the Adam’s apple. It’s mostly made up of cartilage and muscle.
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