Boy in a band holding a megaphone with 'loud' written on it

Something to say?

Is our move to two legs linked to our ability to speak?

The way we talk depends on the way we breathe. Most primates breathe in constant rhythm, and their vocal sounds are limited to one per breath. Humans, however, can interrupt the rhythm when we choose and produce a whole string of syllables as we breathe out. This escape from tight, rhythmic control of breathing may have been important in the evolution of language. It may also be linked to the shift from involuntary to voluntary coupling of breathing and stride rhythm, which went along with our move to bipedal (two-legged) movement.

Some musicians take the long exhalations of speech a step further. Wind players such as trumpeters and saxophonists can learn ‘circular breathing’, a technique that demands breathing in through the nose while expelling air from the mouth using muscular pressure from the cheeks. This allows players to sustain a continuous stream of notes.

Lead image:

sharkhats/Flickr CC BY NC


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Exercise, Energy and Movement’ in January 2012 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Exercise, Energy and Movement
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development