Gestures used by chimpanzees to communicate with each other follow some of the same rules intrinsic to human language, according to a study of wild chimps living in Uganda.
Raphaela Heesen, at the University of Roehampton in the UK, and colleagues analysed video recordings of more than 2000 uses of 58 different types of “play” gestures used by chimps living in the Budongo Forest.
They found that more frequently used gestures were shorter in duration, and that longer signing sequences were made up of shorter, syllable-like gestures. These two patterns are known to apply to all human languages.
“Primate gestural communication is, of course, very different to human language, but our results show that these two systems are underpinned by the same mathematical principles,” says Heesen.
Bonobos are known to use some of the same gestures as chimps. “We hope that our work will pave the way for similar studies, to see quite how widespread these laws might be across the animal kingdom,” Heesen says.
As well as using hand and foot gestures, chimps communicate with noises, body postures and facial expressions. A study last year found that that chimps and human toddlers use similar stamping, pointing and clapping tactics to get attention.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.2900