Researchers Reveal That Orangutans Are Capable Of Using Slang To Be ‘Cool’

“How do you do, fellow kids?” You know that meme, often used as a reaction GIF, taken from a scene from 30 Rock. I know the show’s old, but I still see that meme once in a while, and I still laugh at it.

When I first heard that some primates use slang to appear hip, I immediately thought of the 30 Rock scene. Apparently, orangutans can be cool too, just look at this cool orangutan trying on sunglasses, and they come up with their own hip slang.

Among one of the most intelligent primates, inventing their own slang probably isn’t a big deal for the species. A recent study shows that primates can come up with their own version of the “kiss-squeak” alarm calls. Opposite from what they originally thought of as something innate in the orangutans, these alarm calls can actually be changed and remixed into new versions.

Researchers say that some of the newer versions of the “kiss-squeak” alarm call vary in pitch and duration and that the size of the local community of orangutans and how the newer version is received by the locals can actually influence the frequency of the alarm calls. So think of it as something going viral in our society. If they like it, it sticks; if not, they find something new.

Adriano Lameira, the lead author of the article that was published in the Nature journal, said that “The way I see it is that low densities of orangutans have a slang repertoire that they constantly revisit and use. They are ‘conservative,’ but once a new call variant is used, everyone hears it, and the variant is quickly incorporated, enriching the slang.”

And when it comes to a community with a high density of orangutans, Lameira said that “communication is more like a cacophony. It seems ‘novelty’ is at a premium and that individuals want to show off their coolness and how rebellious they are.”

PHOTO: Pixabay/ntrief

The research team is reported to have spent over 6,000 hours within 5 years working on observing around 70 individual orangutans and their kiss-squeak alarm calls. Their work resulted in knowing that, with the high-density communities of primates, there is a high turnover for the alarm calls. In other words, getting on the orangutan mainstream seems hard, and quick trends are more common. Low-density communities, however, release new versions of their alarm calls less frequently, but they stay trending for a while.

The researchers also added that other than having the desire to be cool, orangutans also share some similarities to humans when it comes to their languages. The lead author of the article shared that there is growing evidence that “great ape repertoires, like human languages, are composed of consonant- and vowel-like calls which can not only be carefully controlled but combined to make syllable-like combinations that can even be used to communicate about past events.”

From their research, Lameira expressed that their study also highlighted the importance of conservation. “Great apes and their habitat must be preserved if we are to hold any chances of unveiling further pieces of the puzzle of language evolution,” Lameira said.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Mark Flanagan

Orangutans are listed as critically endangered due to deforestation and habitat loss, and the species is also a victim of illegal hunting and wildlife trade.

View another story here to check out some other critically endangered species that you should know about.

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