Communicating without words: a closer look at our primate cousins

27. August 2012


Humans – unlike any other species – have language. The search for the evolutionary origins and developmental trajectories of this uniquely human ability directed the attention also to our closest relatives, the nonhuman primates. Our shared phylogenetic history suggests that particularly great apes possess some cognitive and communicative skills that might represent potential precursors to human language. In my talk, I will focus on the gestures and facial expressions of nonhuman great apes and how they use these communicative means to interact with each other in their complex social groups as well as with humans. Based on this I will discuss if and to what extent this knowledge sheds lights on possible scenarios of language evolution and will also highlight potential problems and open questions of the comparative approach to human communication.