Written by the French author Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes portrays a fantasized episode of three astronauts stranded in the distant planet of Soror. Little do they know, however, that Soror is dominated not by humans, but by highly intelligent nonhuman apes that could talk. The apes became civilized masters of the world while humans became barbaric savages that could not even talk. While two of the three astronauts do not have such a lucky fate, Ulysse Merou perseveres and keeps himself sane through countless psychological experiments by befriending two friendly chimpanzees called Cornelius and Zira. With their help, he ultimately journeys back to Earth with a native Soror human woman.
Two topics in the novel are particularly striking: language and speech in nonhuman primates and the ethics of conducting nonhuman primate research. It is not surprising that speech and language has enabled these apes to construct an advanced civilization that parallels those in our world. Actual scientific research, however, dictates that language and speech in nonhuman primates are not as simple as the book may suggest. Rather, speech is a phenomenon enabled through a combination of anatomical traits and cognitive capabilities. Ethics of conducting experiments on nonhuman primates are raised after Ulysse witnesses fellow human peers being experimented on in person.
Although it is briefly alluded to in the novel, Ulysse proposes an intriguing topic that contemporary people and researchers alike have pondered: why are humans the only animals that have a capacity for speech and language while others do not? In the novel’s setting, however, apes have the capacity for speech and language while humans do not. While Ulysse was assisting Cornelius in his research, he attempts to fathom the apes’ bizarre capability for language speech. Ulysse postulates that apes acquired speech by mimicking human speech. He asserts that understanding of language is not necessary in imitating the same process in other primates, in particular humans. He insists that language is a purely mechanical process and that “there is nothing, in the anatomy of ape … except the necessary urge” (211) that hinders the apes’ capacity for speech and language.
Modern research, however, presents an alternative view on language and speech in nonhuman primates. Asif A. Ghanzanfar and Drew Rendall (2008) compared the biology and vocal behavior of extant nonhuman primates and humans to deduce specific anatomical traits that facilitates speech in humans. Voices and sounds are produced in the larynx and filtered by the oral and nasal cavities above the larynx. Because of the descended position of the larynx in humans compared to other primates, humans have a unique enlarged, pharyngeal cavity. In conjunction with the two tube vocal tract consisting of the oral cavity and pharyngeal cavity, the movements of the tongue and lips produces dynamic resonances which are fundamental to many phenomes in human...