Gestural communication in primates

I had promised to turn attention to communication in primates over a series of blog posts.  I’ll start with a book I bought a year ago, edited by Josep Call and Michael Tomasello, called The Gestural Communication of Apes and Monkeys (2007).  This is a valuable reference that points to gestures as socially learned, but it does mainly focus on captive apes and gestures are considered in isolation, or as Adam Kendon, an authority on gestural communication, states in his review of the book, they are “units” detached from the natural and complex flow of gestures, sounds and so on  – we don’t necessarily gain an adequate understanding of interactions due to this categorising of gestures into units.  I think this is what made me abandon parts of the book, yet at the same time I was fascinated to watch the DVD footage even though it did seem disjointed (and in some cases did not play well).  Kendon refers to Joanne Tanner’s (2004) research into captive lowland gorillas, where she captures “phrases” rather than just single gestures.  I’ll look at Tanner for the next blog post, so our focus in this series will first be on great apes.

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