Descent of the larynx in chimpanzee infants
Takeshi Nishimura, Akichika Mikami, Juri Suzuki, Tetsuro Matsuzawa
The human larynx descends during infancy and the early juvenile periods, and this greatly contributes to the morphological foundations of speech development. This developmental phenomenon is believed to be unique to humans. This concept has formed a basis for paleoanthropological studies on the origin and evolution of human speech. We used magnetic resonance imaging to study the development of three living chimpanzees and found that their larynges also descend during infancy, as in human infants. This descent was completed primarily through the rapid descent of the laryngeal skeleton relative to the hyoid, but it was not accompanied by the descent of the hyoid itself. The descent is possibly associated with developmental changes of the swallowing mechanism. Moreover, it contributes physically to an increased independence between the processes of phonation and articulation for vocalization. Thus, the descent of the larynx and the morphological foundations for speech production must have evolved in part during hominoid evolution, and not in a single shift during hominid evolution.