Gestural communication in the great apes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Language provides us with the most powerful social tool that any species has evolved. With it we can articulate any idea that comes to mind: from chaos theory to a knock-knock joke. And yet we have very little idea of how or why this remarkable faculty evolved. Other species’ communication permits rich information exchange; but humans do more than broadcast information –with language, whether spoken or signed, we communicate particular goals to specific partners. Language goes beyond information; it has meaning. When it was demonstrated that great apes employ their large repertoires of gestures to communicate in this language-like way, it revolutionised our understanding of non-human communication. Here we describe the gestural communication of great apes, with a particular focus on its language-like characteristics including intentional use, meaning, and flexibility.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Animal Behavior
EditorsJae Choe
ISBN (Electronic)9780128132524
ISBN (Print)9780128132517
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2019


  • Communication
  • Evolution of language
  • Flexibility
  • Gesture
  • Goal-directed
  • Great ape
  • Intentional
  • Meaning
  • Multimodal
  • Openness
  • Repertoire
  • Structure
  • Syntax


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