Monkey Talks In Sentences

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 18th, 2006

putty-nosed monkey

Dolphins give each other names, and now we learn that monkeys talk in sentences. What do these new findings have to say about all those thoughts of humans being the only animals that have a “language”? And thus, by extension, that Sasquatch/Bigfoot with language “must” mean they are more human, as per John Kirk’s posting about the talking Sasquatch of Harrison Hot Springs?

This new primate research is very specific:

Monkeys are able to string together a simple “sentence”, according to research that offers the first evidence that animals might be capable of a key feature of language.

British scientists have discovered that the putty-nosed monkey in Nigeria pictured above sometimes communicates by combining sounds into a sequence that has a different meaning from any of its component calls, an ability that was thought to be uniquely human.

The putty-nosed monkeys, Cercopithecus nictitans, of the Gashaka Gumti National Park, have two main alarm call sounds. A sound known onomatopoeically as the “pyow” warns other animals against a lurking leopard, and a cough-like sound that scientists call a “hack” is used when an eagle is hovering near by.

For the entire article, see The Times of London, "Pyow pyow pyow . . . hack hack hack hack! Let’s get out of here (in monkey talk)", May 18, 2006.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

22 Responses to “Monkey Talks In Sentences”

  1. lamarkable responds:

    Beyond the conceptual formulations defining vocalizations in of themselves, as fitting our model of reality, there is SETI. Here is an array of interstellar radio receivers poised to receive mathematical vocalizations from space. Here are the Fortean investigators scouring the locus of manifestations looking for “vocalizations” in crop circles, EVP, et al. Then, at the center of all of this, here is the Fermi Paradox Bewilderment as a natural state. Models of theoretical reality, in the hypnosis of our mistaking reality in the mirror of terms we apply to it, discounts the act of observation into categories based on assumptions. So, I will pose the question I posed to a another researcher of paradox, if you could ask these quasi-human beings one question, what would it be? Perhaps the ultimate Bigfoot question would be What am I?

  2. Tabitca responds:

    The monkeys aren’t actually talking in the ways humans do but communicating.I got all excited when I saw this and then deflated again when I realised it wasn’t the case. 🙁
    Without a proper anatomical human type voice box they cannot speak.It may be that a synthethised voice box could (as that used by people who have had throat surgery and lost their own)be invented that can be attached to animals. I for one would love to know what they would say!

  3. Ranatemporaria responds:


    Im a little confused by that comment. Are you inferring this would only be exciting if primates spoke perfect English? I understand it may not be understandable but that doesn’t make it less of a form of speech! Many African tribes use(d) clicks and whistles to communicate does that make it not relevant. Just because it’s not plain English doesn’t make any less remarkable. The fact that they produce sentences is very interesting. Im not sure why you would expect anything different out of a monkey using a voice box as to them it is us that don’t make sense! We know already apes can be taught a huge vocabulary in sign language, that to is remarkable or does that not count either?!?

  4. Chymo responds:

    It’s a very basic form of syntax.

    We already know that primates’ brains are more or less hard-wired to use language. Most apes adapt quite well, if habituated early, to using human sign language or symbols. It is almost as if primate brains have been preset to learn language, they have similar structures in the brain associated with language in humans.

    The problem is the *hardware*, the vocal abilities. Humans have vocal cords specifically evolved for sophisticated sound use. Apes do not, although they of course are capable of a wide range of vocalisations that no doubt are used in the wild in very sophisticated manner.

    Apes may use language, but not language as we know it, Jim.

  5. BFan responds:

    I don’t know if this comment relates but I couldn’t resist posting it…. so I thought that this information would best suit this list of comments.

    Just read an interesting article on the front page of The San Diego Union Tribune. Humans and chimps may be kissin’ cousins DNA suggests species once mated, produced offspring.

    The original article was published in yesterday’s issue of “Nature,” and it states that Chimpanzee and human ancestors may have interbred. A genetic analysis suggests a messy split between the two lineages.

    Anybody find the article interesting or was it just me?

  6. ZenBug responds:

    I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s precept: “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.”

    I’m also reminded of this Gary Larson cartoon.

  7. lamarkable responds:

    Great cartoon and insightful precept.
    The photograph of the faux quasi humanoid in front of the gift shop was a zen moment. Another one;

    If you cannot find the truth right where you are where else do you expect to find it?
    Dogen Zenji

  8. Ranatemporaria responds:

    B Fan
    Thats really interesting i was asking only the otherday if anyone knew of any detail as to the Phylogeny and divergence between man and Chimp, especially with regards to possible interbreeding… That could have huge evolutionary consiquence if it is true, it would mean as you say we are sister species and have no intermediates!! Extrordinary!

  9. twblack responds:

    I just read the story of B Fan on cnn website. I thought the story was very interesting. The fact above that monkeys may talk to each other in various ways does not suprise me one bit. I think their is so much about the animal kingdom we have yet to discover. And as we do discover more and more we can and will be amazed in my view anyway.

  10. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Any chance of a link to the CNN story?
    i cant find it.

  11. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Got the Nature Link Here exciting stuff!

  12. greatanarch responds:

    Fascinating to hear of chimps and human ancestors interbreeding. It makes more believable all those suggestions of homo sapiens mating with Neanderthals. It also suggests an wholly new answer to the question “What do we do if we find the Malaysian Bigfoot?”

  13. Ranatemporaria responds:

    It certainly blurs things up a little thats for certain! I might be wrong but i read this as “there is no missing link”. We diverged from apes and all that that proceeds this divergence (and isnt homosapien)is either a hybrid or a species diverged from our lineage or that of Chimps/Apes? Am i right here? Is there a geneticist in the house?

  14. Tabitca responds:

    They were suggesting that just after Humans’ and Chimps’ common ancestor split into species there was a lot of hybridisation (cross-breeding) between these new species, causing the unexpected genomic patterns we see in the human and chimp genomes. I did post a link to the original article in the talking sasquatch thread earlier today.
    Basically to quote a colleague we were chimp shaggers (sorry if I offend anyone with that)

  15. Tabitca responds:

    Ranatemporaria -sorry only just seen your comment. no I thought when i saw the title that apes had used sign language or word cards to make sentences which would have been a great breakthrough. The comment about wanting to know what they say is simply i would love to know what they say to each other. Do they chat or simply convey needed messages such as food here etc.
    I wasn’t inferring that it wasn’t interesting or exciting just wasn’t what i expected.C’est La vie

  16. Tabitca responds:

    re my earlier comment on the interbreeding-of course the implication for cryptozoology is that the bigfoot could be a hybrid from those times. that I find really exciting!:-) and so may have speech!

  17. Chymo responds:

    The irritating thing is that most people think evolution is a clear & linear process. We look at fossils & that nice graphic of the ape turning into an upright man, & we assume that evolution takes place in a straight line, like a graph, from less sophisticated to greater sophistication.

    It’s not like that. Evolution is not linear. This new finding on ancient proto-human interaction with other species is only surprising to the layman.

  18. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Im Sorry Chymo but im currently studying a Masters in Ecology Biodiversity and Speciation, I find that revelation both surprising and exiting. The fact that this study does indeed trace a single phylogeny of our ancestral heritage to Chimps is worthy of note. I understand that the DNA sequencing methods used are not definitive, but the whole point of this story is that it may have been a straight line! I think you missed the relevance here! There may well have been several instances of cladiogenesis along the way but the fact that gene flow was still occurring a mere 4 m.y.a opposed to the previous estimates of divergence 6.5m.y.a. This may mean complete divergence could not have occurred until this point, and prior to it there is a possibility of multiple viable hybrids being produced. Therefore this does raise questions as to the possibilities of other fossil hominids being the results of parallel or covergent evolution as opposed to ancestral Humans! I think that is supprising!

  19. Ranatemporaria responds:


    Sorry I obviously interpreted your comment the wrong way! And yes it would be very interesting to know what they say though the mundane truth would probably be “Snake!” or “Nuts!” or perhaps “what is time if not simply a perception of our own consciousness, oh look some nuts!”
    lol 🙂

  20. Chymo responds:


  21. lamarkable responds:

    The researchers themselves say it is far from a conclusive theory. I would not jump to conclusions or assumptions prematurely but it is certainly interesting. A potentiality of informational bits in a combinatory matrix outside of the whole system’s reciprocal balance of same does not a match make.

  22. Redskelter responds:

    Greetings all,

    Loren, I remember bringing this topic up in a conversation with you at a Cryptozoology conference in Greenville South Carolina a few years back (around the time of the “Skunk Ape” flap of Lafollette, TN). I thought you folks might be interested in this article I published in FATE magazine in October of 2004.

    It mentions many of the same stories discussed on this blog already, including those of the Chehalis of Harrison Lake. Subsequently, I have corresponded with a man from Idaho who claims to be “very certain” of their vocal abilities, which he says he bases on field experiences with the animals. Who knows…maybe an excuse to filter more from the linguistic perspective of Anthropology, eh?


    Micah Hanks

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