QUIRKY WORLD ... Rocky apes human speech in knockout study

Britain: An orangutan called Rocky has outperformed Sylvester Stallone in the movie of the same name by displaying an ability to emulate human speech.

Rocky the ginger ape has astonished experts by producing sounds similar to words in a “conversational context”.

Researchers conducted a game in which Rocky mimicked the pitch and tone of human sounds and made vowel-like calls.

Comparing Rocky’s sounds against a large database of recordings of wild and captive orangutans showed they were markedly different.

Rocky was able to learn new sounds and control the action of his voice in the way humans do when they conduct a conversation, the scientists concluded.

They believe Rocky could be the key to understanding how human speech evolved.

Lead researcher Adriano Lameria, from the University of Durham, said: “It’s not clear how spoken language evolved from the communication systems of the ancestral great apes.

“Instead of learning new sounds, it has been presumed that sounds made by great apes are driven by arousal over which they have no control, but our research proves that orangutans have the potential capacity to control the action of their voices.”

Eight-year-old Rocky was studied at Indianapolis Zoo in the US, where he still lives, between April and May 2012.

In the “do-as-I-do” game he attempted to copy random sounds made by the experimenter which included variations in tone and pitch.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

 

Scandal inflates

Italy: The outspoken leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party has drawn a chorus of criticism for comparing the woman speaker of the lower house of parliament to an inflatable sex doll.

While Matteo Salvini addressed the crowd at a rally near the northern city of Cremona, a blow-up doll was held up by supporters behind him.

“Boldrini’s clone is here on the stage,” said Salvini, referring to lower house speaker Laura Boldrini. He gave no explanation why he made the comparison.

The remark was greeted with raucous laughter among the crowd but roundly condemned by politicians from across the political spectrum.

The Northern League leader often targets Boldrini, who comes from a small left-wing party, because of her appeals for humane treatment for immigrants. Before being elected to parliament, she was Italy’s spokeswoman for the UN High Commission for Refugees.

“Salvini misses no opportunity for insults and vulgarity but with this rally he has passed every limit of decency,” said Emanuele Fiano, a prominent deputy for prime minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party.

Maria Elena Boschi, the minister for constitutional reforms, accused Salvini of “squalid sexism” which she said offended not only Boldrini but all Italian men and women.

 

War stories

Britain: Hundreds of letters have been unearthed which shed new light on life during the two world wars and the civil rights movement in the US.

The Royal Mail has received 340 letters after it launched a campaign marking its 500th anniversary.

People were asked to look in attics and garages to search for long-forgotten letters or postcards giving personal accounts of life in previous decades.

The letters include one addressed to an English family giving a detailed account of a Jewish woman’s fight to leave Germany in 1938.

David Gold, of Royal Mail, said: “It has been great to see the support that the campaign has received from the public already. We have been sent letters from all corners of the country covering everything from fighting in the First and Second World Wars to sage advice from a grandfather to his grandson.

“While at times the letters have been hard to read, they have given us a special glimpse into life across the UK through the centuries. We can’t wait to see what other pieces of history the public share with us over the next couple of months.”

 

Fishy business

Alaska: Alaskans are always excited by salmon runs, unless it’s across a highway.

A truck carrying chum salmon to a cannery in Alaska’s capital city rolled on Monday afternoon, spilling the fish across three of the highway’s four lanes and backing up traffic for about 90 minutes.

Juneau police spokesman Lt. David Campbell said his police chief, Bryce Johnson, was one of six officers who responded to the scene, and confirmed the area did smell.

Campbell says the amount of fish spilled wasn’t immediately known, but men who looked like fishermen in slickers were cleaning fish off Egan Highway.

The fish was destined to one of the canneries in Juneau, and Campbell says he didn’t know if the men cleaning it were from the cannery or the transport company.

The driver had minor injuries, but wasn’t taken to hospital.


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