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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).              

chimp sub photo1Research  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.


Evolang satellite workshop, April 16, 2018 (Torún, Poland)”

What Is Compositional about Language, and Can We Find Compositionality in the Communication of Other Species?” (Organizers:  Linda Oña, Wendy Sandler, & Katja Liebal)


Oña, Linda S, Sandler, Wendy & Liebal Katja. (2019). A Stepping Stone to Compositionality in Chimpanzee Communication. PeerJ. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7623


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)

 Research team:

Researcher: Linda Scheider

Senior Researcher: Katja Liebal

Principal Investigator: Wendy Sandler