Contrary to the view that language can be investigated by focusing on syntactic computations only, we propose that language and its basic expressions are an embodied system, in which the whole body and its articulators participate. In searching for the evolutionary roots of language, animals have been the main focus of attention by researchers in order to identify the aspects of communication that are unique to humans and those that are shared with other species. In this project, we investigate body based communication in our closest living relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes).
Research on the communication systems of non-human primates, sometimes conducted in uncontrolled interaction with humans, has focussed on only one modality at a time (either gestural, vocal or facial), and has viewed each of these modalities in holistic fashion, not taking into account the individual components that comprise these signals, the way they combine with signals from another modality (e.g., Dzchest beat-gesturedz combined with a Dzplay facedz), or whether they recombine.
The aim of this project is to search for the precursors of compositionality in chimpanzee displays, particularly when in situations of high arousal, such as play or agonistic interactions. We extracted 20 hours of relevant material from 260 hours of natural video data collected at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia, and are identifying: 1) compounds of single signals of face (by using ChimpFACS) or hands/body (with a newly-established chimp body coding system), and 2) combinations of signals across modalities; (3) seeking recombinations of these signals; and (4) documenting the responses of recipients. Hypotheses based on these analyses will be followed up by eye tracking experiments to investigate how the signals are appraised by conspecifics.
Scheider, Linda. 2015. „Compositionality in emotional expressions of chimpanzees.
Poster presented at Why C(omp)ARE? Conference on research across species and cultures to understand the human mind, Berlin/Leipzig (Germany)
Researcher: Linda Scheider
Senior Researcher: Katja Liebal
Principal Investigator: Wendy Sandler