Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

October 2014


What are the implications of similarities and differences in the gestural and symbolic development of apes and humans?This focused review uses as a starting point our recent study that provided evidence that gesture supported the symbolic development of a chimpanzee, a bonobo, and a human child reared in language-enriched environments at comparable stages of communicative development. These three species constitute a complete clade, species possessing a common immediate ancestor. Communicative behaviors observed among all species in a clade are likely to have been present in the common ancestor. Similarities in the form and function of many gestures produced by the chimpanzee, bonobo, and human child suggest that shared non-verbal skills may underlie shared symbolic capacities. Indeed, an ontogenetic sequence from gesture to symbol was present across the clade but more pronounced in child than ape. Multimodal expressions of communicative intent (e.g., vocalization plus persistence or eye-contact) were normative for the child, but less common for the apes. These findings suggest that increasing multimodal expression of communicative intent may have supported the emergence of language among the ancestors of humans. Therefore, this focused review includes new studies, since our 2013 article, that support a multimodal theory of language evolution.


This work was originally published in Frontiers in Psychology, available at doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01228.



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