A gestural repertoire of 1-to 2-year-old human children: in search of the ape gestures

Verena Kersken, Juan-Carlos Gomez, Ulf Liszkowski, Adrian Soldati, Catherine Hobaiter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


When we compare human gestures to those of other apes, it looks at first like there is nothing much to compare at all. In adult humans, gestures are thought to be a window into the thought processes accompanying language, and sign languages are equal to spoken language with all of its features. Some research firmly emphasises the differences between human gestures and those of other apes; however, the question about whether there are any commonalities is rarely investigated, and has mostly been confined to pointing gestures. The gestural repertoires of nonhuman ape species have been carefully studied and described with regard to their form and function-but similar approaches are much rarer in the study of human gestures. This paper applies the methodology commonly used in the study of nonhuman ape gestures to the gestural communication of human children in their second year of life. We recorded (n = 13) children's gestures in a natural setting with peers and caregivers in Germany and Uganda. Children employed 52 distinct gestures, 46 (89%) of which are present in the chimpanzee repertoire. Like chimpanzees, they used them both singly, and in sequences, and employed individual gestures flexibly towards different goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-595
Number of pages19
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number4
Early online date8 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Children
  • Gesture
  • Chimpanzee
  • Language
  • Reference


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