Monkeys Use Baby Talk With Infants

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
August 24, 2007

Humans aren't the only animals to use baby talk when speaking to offspring—rhesus monkeys also go "gaga" over babies, new research says.

Puerto Rico's female rhesus monkeys make unique vocalizations to interact with infants to get their attention, the study finds.

"These female monkeys are definitely excited about looking at babies, and their vocalizations convey that excitement," said study co-author Dario Maestripieri, an associate professor in comparative human development at the University of Chicago.

(Related: "Brain Has 'Face Place' for Recognition, Monkey Study Confirms" [February 3, 2006].)

One particular monkey sound, known as a "girney," seems especially designed for infant ears.

"When infants are around they use [the girney] a lot more, and they also do other things like wag their tails to the babies—which they don't do in other circumstances," Maestripieri said.

Maestripieri and colleagues published their findings in the current issue of the journal Ethology.

Musical Motherese

Baby talk, also called "motherese," is practiced by people all over the world.

No matter what language they speak, people baby-talk in the same way, with a raised pitch and a swooping, sing-song style.

Everyone does it because babies respond to it, and scientists believe the practice has a useful biological origin.

But those looking for a monkey motherese translation will be disappointed.

Continued on Next Page >>


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