Chimpanzees talk just like us: Scientists record primates using gestures in the same way people use words
- Chimpanzees lack the ability to speak but make gestures to communicate
- Scientists analysed 2,000 instances of 58 different types of ‘play’ gesture
- They found that more frequently used gestures were shorter in duration
- Longer signing sequences were made up of shorter gesture ‘syllables’
Man’s closest animal relative, chimps, communicate in a distinctly ‘human-like’ way, scientists have found.
The primates use gestures that follow some of the same rules as basic human language.
One was Zipf’s law of abbreviation, which says commonly used words tend to be shorter, and the other is Menzerath’s law, which predicts that larger linguistic structures are made up of shorter parts – such as syllables within spoken words.
Experts made the discovery after studying videos of wild chimps living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest Reserve.
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Chimpanzee sign language apes the way humans communicate, research has shown. The primates employ gestures that follow some of the same rules intrinsic to human language, scientists have learned (file photo)
Like other great apes, chimpanzees lack the ability to speak but have previously been shown to use meaningful gestures to communicate with one another.
Scientists have made the comparison to deaf people ‘signing’ to each other.
The study found that chimp gestures are underpinned by linguistic laws which are similar to those seen in human language.
The team from the University of Roehampton focused on two particular rules known to apply across the board of human languages.
The scientists analysed more than 2,000 of around 58 different types of ‘play’ gesture employed by the Budongo Forest chimps.
They found that the animals followed these rules, as predicted by the two linguistic laws.
More frequently used gestures were shorter in duration, and longer signing sequences were made up of shorter gesture ‘syllables’.
Scientists analysed more than 2,000 of around 58 different types of ‘play’ gesture employed by the Budongo Forest chimps. They found that more frequently used gestures were shorter in duration, and longer signing sequences were made up of shorter gesture ‘syllables’ (stock image)
Lead researcher Raphaela Heesen said: ‘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.
‘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.’
As well as using hand and foot gestures, chimps communicate with noises, body postures and facial expressions.
Research published in September last year showed that chimps and human toddlers employ similar stamping, pointing, and clapping tactics to get attention.
The latest findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
WHO IS SMARTER: CHIMPS OR CHILDREN?
Most children surpass the intelligence levels of chimpanzees before they reach four years old.
A study conducted by Australian researchers in June 2017 tested children for foresight, which is said to distinguish humans from animals.
The experiment saw researchers drop a grape through the top of a vertical plastic Y-tube.
They then monitored the reactions of a child and chimpanzee in their efforts to grab the grape at the other end, before it hit the floor.
Because there were two possible ways the grape could exit the pipe, researchers looked at the strategies the children and chimpanzees used to predict where the grape would go.
The apes and the two-year-olds only covered a single hole with their hands when tested.
But by four years of age, the children had developed to a level where they knew how to forecast the outcome.
They covered the holes with both hands, catching whatever was dropped through every time.