Could Apes Talk as They Do in the Movies?

"War for the Planet of the Apes," the latest movie in the enduring "Planet of the Apes" franchise, took the top spot at the box office on its opening weekend and is one of the biggest films of the summer.

As with all films in the franchise, which first launched in 1968, the plot of the 2017 movie is based largely on the assumption that apes could speak like humans if only they had a boost in brainpower — which, on the big screen, they receive via a manmade drug. But could apes really be just one pharmaceutical away from being able to talk like people?

It's an enduring debate among scientists: whether non-human primates could speak with a little more brainpower, or whether they lack the proper anatomical structure in their vocal tract to produce human-language sounds.

It's also an area of interest for University of Arizona primatologists and Norton School Faculty Dieter and Netzin Steklis, who have spent decades working with apes, and lead the UA's summer Primate Studies Field School in Rwanda.


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