Spatial reference in a bonobo gesture

Emilie Genty, Klaus Zuberbühler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Great apes frequently produce gestures during social interactions to communicate in flexible, goal-directed ways [1-3], a feature with considerable relevance for the ongoing debate over the evolutionary origins of human language [1, 4]. But despite this shared feature with language, there has been a lack of evidence for semantic content in ape gestures. According to one authoritative view, ape gestures thus do not have any specific referential, iconic, or deictic content, a fundamental difference versus human gestures and spoken language [1, 5] that suggests these features have a more recent origin in human evolution, perhaps caused by a fundamental transition from ape-like individual intentionality to human-like shared intentionality [6]. Here, we revisit this human uniqueness claim with a study of a previously undescribed human-like beckoning gesture in bonobos that has potentially both deictic and iconic character. We analyzed beckoning in two groups of bonobos, kept under near natural environmental and social conditions at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary near Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in terms of its linguistic content and underlying communicative intention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1601-5
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2014


  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Female
  • Gestures
  • Male
  • Pan paniscus


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