I'm looking for concrete answer for my 5 year old who keeps asking me this question. He asked after watching the TV show Evolve (episode on communication). He knows humans and primates shared a common ancestor so I guess it's natural to wonder why other primates don't talk like we do. He has supposed that they don't talk because they are "just animals". I explained that we humans really aren't much different than animals so that isn't a good reason. I've already explained that they do communicate, just not in the way we do. I think I confused him because he tells me that I didn't answer his question.

What would be a scientifically accurate way to answer this question? Being 5 he has a very black and white view of the world, to him you either talk or you don't. He's not having any of this 'non-verbal' communication stuff.

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Chimpanzees cannot talk, not least because their larynx - as in all other mammals except us - is high in the throat and serves as a valve to stop water running down their windpipes as they drink. Only humans have a larynx slung low, where it can resonate (the voice box), to produce something more than a grunt or a miaow. So those who have investigated the putative linguistic skills of chimps, beginning with Robert Yerkes in the United States in the 1920s, have typically tried to teach them American sign language.

Reference: http://www.newstatesman.com/199908020012

Although...I did see a series of documentaries back in the 70's called "Planet of the Apes"...and those apes could certainly speak. WTF? They devolved!
The voice box - good. I assumed that they weren't capable of creating the sounds we can because of anatomy but I'm not knowledgeable enough to give a decent explanation. This helps.
This helps too. Thanks!
I think his refute to not really answering him was good for his age :) Well, the primary reason is that chimps lack the correct speech organs which has been said. Also, I am not sure if their mouth is very good for making human sounds anyway, as you know, their cheeks are formed differently too.

The most primary reason of course, is most probably a lack of a speech center in the brain.
Thanks Lea.
just tell them they dont talk because tehy are out to kill him and if he ever figured out thier plan theyd kill him anyways...
Ok first let's get this into a coherent form: "Just tell him they don't talk because they are out to kill him. If he ever figured out their plan, they would kill him anyway." Now, if this is a proper translation from whatever that was to English, I would caution against this advice. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence pointing to a chimp conspiracy to murder humans as well as no evidence that chimps have a plan for systematic genocide to keep their plans a secret. If your child were older, this would be a great excercise in critical thinking skills. Present the hypothesis that chimps are "out to kill" him, then look for evidence. If none is available, the chimp conspiracy hypothesis may be discarded. Also, this would be a great example of why it is important to learn grammer, spelling, and English. When your child is searching for information on this or other topics in the future, a huge red flag should shoot up and warn him that the source he is researching has a high probability of being utterly wrong.
The fact that chimpanzees lack some anatomical components which allow them to speak doesn't answer the question of why chimps don't talk from an evolutionary perspective. Why didn't evolution favor chimps who had better preconditions to talk?
You must remember natural selection isn't always the driving force of evolution. Don't forget genetic drift. Not every single attribute must be explained in terms of natural selection.
I have some vague concept about genetic drift, yes, but as a lay person in biology, I don't understand what you're talking about.
Genetic drift basically refers to changes in a population's allele frequency due to chance (alleles being variants of a gene). Organisms sometimes fail to reproduce not because they are less suited for survival but from sheer "unluckiness." It is one of many mechanisms influencing the genetic makeup of a population.

To the original question:
Probably, chimpanzees are not evolving to speak since they are already getting along fine without it. Evolution doesn't usually happen unless changes in the environment provide the necessary selection pressure.


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