Research published earlier this year claiming chimpanzees can learn each others' language is not supported, a team of scientists concludes after reviewing the study.
The scholarship in question, published in the journal Current Biology in February, centered on the examination of two sets of chimpanzees in the Edinburgh Zoo: one that had been captive for several years in the facility and one that had recently arrived from the Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands. Over a three-year period, the researchers claimed that the latter set had altered their sounds to those of the former set when communicating about a common object, apples, resulting in what they saw as a newly shared vocalization.
The original study team, which included faculty from the University of York, the University of Zurich, and the University of St. Andrews, posited that the findings "provide the first evidence for vocal learning in a referential call in non-humans." This was offered as evidence that chimpanzees can learn different calls for the same object, which was widely interpreted as an important finding for the study of language evolution.
But a review of the Current Biology study by researchers at the German Primate Center in Göttingen, the University of Kent, and New York University, suggests these conclusions are off-base.