The gestural communication of apes

S. Pika, Katja Liebal, J. Call, M. Tomasello

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Gestural communication of 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, ape’s gestures do not 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 gestures were the modality within which symbolic communication first evolved.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGestural communication in nonhuman and human primates
EditorsKatja Liebal, C. Muller, S. Pika
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9789027222404
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Publication series

NameBenjamins Current Topics
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company


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