Gorillas are naturally equipped with sign language

February 10th, 2009 - 5:41 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 10 (ANI): Gorillas don”t ape each other, they”re born with an international sign language of gestures that they use to communicate, says a new study from University of St Andrews.
From beating their chests to putting objects on their heads, shaking their arms and even bouncing on all fours, the animals use more than 100 gestures to communicate with each other.
They vary from a fairly simple rocking movement to a complex sounding signal dubbed by the scientists as “disco arms shake”.
According to the researchers, these apes use more around 102 gestures.
Professor Richard Byrne, a psychiatrist involved in the research, said it was hard to figure out the meaning of the gestures.
“We don”t really know what the animals are thinking. Often they have more than one meaning, depending on the context,” the Scotsman quoted him as saying.
The study showed that the gorillas did not learn gestures from each other, as had been expected, but carried them out instinctively.
“Everyone had assumed different groups of gorillas had been learning different gestures,” he said.
“But that’’s not what we found. As we went to more sites, the more we found the same gestures being used.
“They seem to be naturally equipped with a pretty elaborate system of communication,” he added.
The study found that ape gestures were carried out with close attention to the potential audience like silent ones were only given when other apes could see them.
Some gestures, such as “disco arms shake” were only ever seen being directed towards a human
Byrne believes that the findings may explain how human language evolved.
“There has always been speculation that the origins of human language might lie in gesture, an idea supported by the close proximity of the brain areas involved in language and gesture,” he said.
“Many researchers have therefore studied the gestural communication of the great apes for clues to the evolutionary origins of human gesture,” he added.
Several studies have shown great apes are capable of mimicking gestures. However, the scientists found that copies of human actions were actually gestures they were already able to do themselves.
“They matched the demonstrated actions pretty well, but not exactly,” said Prof Byrne.
“So we think that, just as in the case of communicative gestures, the fact that apes have a huge repertoire of actions can explain how they imitate human demonstrations and why their copies are usually inexact: they are ”re-using” actions from their own repertoire, not learning new ones,” he added. (ANI)

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