Humans still understand chimpanzee sign language, even though they don’t use it themselves

(ORDO NEWS) — Although the evolutionary lines of man and great apes diverged millions of years ago, people still understand the meaning of monkey gestures, even if we ourselves do not need them.

The sign language of great apes is quite rich and varied: there are over 80 separate signals, many of which are apparently universal and easily recognized by such distant relatives as chimpanzees and orangutans.

However, people with the ability to articulate speech no longer use such gestures. But can they understand them?

To answer this question, researchers from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) developed an online game in which they asked people who had not previously dealt with great apes to watch videos with the ten most common chimpanzee gestures and choose the possible meaning of this gesture from four options.

In total, scientists interviewed over 5,500 people who watched 20 short videos.

It is curious that a similar method of research was previously used to assess the ability of monkeys to understand human language.

Now the process has been “reversed”, and scientists decided to see if people understand the language of monkeys.

The results showed that in most cases, a person correctly interprets the monkey’s gestures, regardless of whether they were told about the context of the video or not.

It is not yet clear whether we inherit the ability to recognize these gestures genetically, or whether non-verbal communication of people is actually not sufficiently different from the monkey and we can capture the meaning of the gesture even without knowing the context.

In the future, the researchers plan to collect more data and finally compile a “humanoid dictionary”, highlighting a certain universal language that is understood not only by humans, but also by chimpanzees, gorillas and other higher primates.


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