Chimpanzees Gesture to Talk

Chimpanzees, talk, science

Chimpanzees gesture to each other in order to talk and communicate what they want, according to the latest study conducted by Georgia’s Language Research Centre. The findings complement precisely how effective chimpanzees are able to remember and communicate within their environment.

The chimpanzees ability to gesture and “talk” to researchers was demonstrated by their capabilities in pointing out the location of food that was deliberately hidden in a large outdoors area – a new scientific observation made by Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at Georgia’s Language Research Centre.

The experiment, which involved a complex coordination of tasks, helps to prove that beyond chimpanzees’ previously demonstrated flexibility with less-complex gestures, there are still “considerable cognitive abilities” that underlie chimpanzee communications, according to Sarah-Jane Vick from the University of Stirling, one of the study’s collaborators.

Dr. Anna Roberts from the University of Chester, said that the act of gesturing in order to “coordinate joint activities such as finding food” may in fact have been a critical piece in the role of language evolution.

The study conducted involved the chimpanzees having to gesture and indicate to the researcher where the hidden food was located. The researcher did not know in fact where the food had been placed – and so had to rely on the chimpanzees’ directional gestures and ability to persist in their communications to successfully find the food.

A Fascination with Chimpanzees

Humans have held a longtime fascination with chimpanzees, with one of the most notable and ground-breaking researchers being Jane Goodall. Back in 1960, Goodall, in her mid-20s, arrived in East Africa to study chimpanzees to fulfill a lifelong dream. It was the beginning of a historic lifetime of achievement, where her groundbreaking observations included a finding that chimpanzees in fact created tools – as her favorite chimp under study, David Greybeard did – in using twigs to fish for termites out of a termite mound. Up until then, it was widely held notion that only the humans species, according to the Pearson Foundation, used and made tools.

Other observations Goodall made also dispelled the notion that chimpanzees were largely vegetarians by nature, as she noted them “hunting and eating bushpigs and other small animals” in her first year at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.

Goodall’s groundbreaking findings formed the basis of all future research on primate behavior. According to the Pearson Foundation, the research ultimately “redefined the relationship between humans and animals” as further research has lead to the understanding that nonhuman animals also “have personalities, minds and emotions.”

In particular, chimpanzees and their ability to gesture to talk may not be surprising, given that they are the closest living known relatives to the human species. The line of thought is that both humans and chimpanzees, who share more than 98 per cent of the human genetic blueprint, possibly shared a common ancestor over six million years ago.

Despite the continuous groundbreaking studies on the chimpanzees’ ability to communicate and their remarkable genetic closeness to humans, the findings have not stopped the chimpanzees’ habitats from rapid erosion and a threatened extinction to their species due to poaching and disease. Already extinct from four countries, the World Wildlife Organization notes that they currently “are under tremendous pressure everywhere else they live.”

As chimpanzees have proved their ability to gesture to talk – today, at the verge of their extinction – one wonders what they might ask us today, and how those gestures would come about.

By Joscelyne Yu


International Business Times
National Geographic
Nature World News
The Pearson Foundation
World Wildlife Foundation


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