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Gestural communication of apes

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Gestural communication of nonhuman primates may allow insight into the evolutionary scenario of human communication given the flexible use and learning of gestures as opposed to vocalizations. This paper provides an overview of the work on the gestural communication of apes with the focus on their repertoire, learning mechanisms, and the flexibility of gesture use during interactions with conspecifics. Although there is a variation between the species in the types and numbers of gestures performed, the influence of ecology, social structure and cognitive skills on their gestural repertoires is relatively restricted. As opposed to humans, apes do not use their gestures referentially nor do their gestures show the symbolic or conventionalized features of human gestural communication. However, since the gestural repertoires of apes are characterized by a high degree of individual variability and flexibility of use as opposed to their vocalizations it seems plausible that the gestures were the modality within which symbolic communication first evolved.

Keywords: apes; audience effects; flexibility; gestural communication; learning; repertoire

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Alberta, Edmonton, CANADA 2: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, GERMANY

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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