We share a number of characteristics with our closest living relatives, but verbal language is not one of them. This is partly due to anatomical changes that began over 100,000 years ago. Humans have smaller mouths than other great apes, with flexible tongues, elongated necks and fine control over breathing. In concert, these adaptations allow us to make a much greater variety of sounds than chimpanzees or gorillas, and together these different noises make up the core of spoken language.
However, just because apes lack the anatomy to speak, doesn’t mean they are incapable of language. Chimpanzees have learnt to communicate with humans via sign language, and bonobos can associate images with words using specially designed computers. But whether they truly understand or are just after rewards is up for debate. While some chimps have memorised a lot of words, they don’t seem to be able to combine them to form sentences or to describe complex ideas.