Considering the role of social dynamics and positional behavior in gestural communication research.
While the hominin fossil record cannot inform us on either the presence or extent of social and cognitive abilities that may have paved the way for the emergence of language, studying non-vocal communication among our closest living relatives, the African apes, may provide valuable information about how language originated. Although much has been learned from gestural signaling in non-human primates, we have not yet established how and why gestural repertoires vary across species, what factors influence this variation, and how knowledge of these differences can contribute to an understanding of gestural signaling's contribution to language evolution. In this paper, we review arguments surrounding the theory that language evolved from gestural signaling and suggest some important factors to consider when conducting comparative studies of gestural communication among African apes. Specifically, we propose that social dynamics and positional behavior are critical components that shape the frequency and nature of gestural signaling across species and we argue that an understanding of these factors could shed light on how gestural communication may have been the basis of human language. We outline predictions for the influence of these factors on the frequencies and types of gestures used across the African apes and highlight the importance of including these factors in future gestural communication research with primates.
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