What's up with Wahoo? Exploring Baboon Vocalizations with Speech Science Techniques


  • Boë Louis-Jean
  • Sawallis Thomas R.
  • Fagot Joël R
  • Berthommier Frédéric

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The baboon repertoire includes around fourteen less vocalizations. One of them, the “wahoo”, is referred to onomatopoetically, and is composed of three sounds in two syllables, which makes it interesting because it is the most complex baboon vocalization. We consider two hypotheses linking the baboon call and its human name: first, is there a demonstrable acoustical similarity with the human wahoo, and second, is there also further similarity related to articulation? We analyze both acoustic and articulatory information regarding why this vocalization is perceived phonetically as two separated syllables [wa.u]. This study corroborates the hypothesis of two equivalence levels: one acoustic-perceptual and the other related to the production mechanism in baboons and humans. This reveals an apparent similarity between a typical baboon vocalization and an utterance entirely typical of human languages, and thereby adds to the links between non-human primates vocalizations and human speech.

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