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BonobosUnique in Mind, Brain, and Behavior$
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Brian Hare and Shinya Yamamoto

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198728511

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198728511.001.0001

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Natural communication in bonobos: Insights into social awareness and the evolution of language

Natural communication in bonobos: Insights into social awareness and the evolution of language

(p.105) Chapter 8 Natural communication in bonobos: Insights into social awareness and the evolution of language

Zanna Clay

Emilie Genty

Oxford University Press

Our capacity for language is a central aspect of what it means to be human and sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Given that language does not fossilize, one way to understand how and when it first evolved is to examine the communicative capacities of our closest living relatives, the great apes. This chapter reviews recent research exploring natural communication in our least understood but closest living relative, the bonobo (Pan paniscus). It primarily focuses on what natural bonobo communication can tell us about their underlying social awareness and how this relates to the evolution of language. Examining vocal and gestural communication, we report findings that highlight considerable communicative complexity, flexibility, and intentionality which, cumulatively, suggest that many of the building blocks for language are deeply rooted in our primate past. Notre qualité de langage est un aspect central d’être humain, et nous sépare du reste de l’univers animal. Vu que le langage ne fige pas, les qualités communicatives des grands singes nous peuvent aider à expliquer comment et quand est-ce-que nos langues ont évolué. Ici nous révisons les recherches plus récentes explorant la communication naturelle chez notre plus proche relatif vivant, le bonobo (Pan paniscus). Nous nous concentrons sur ce que la communication naturelle des bonobos nous peut dire à propos de leur conscience sociale et comment cela se rapporte à l’évolution des langues. En examinant la communication vocale et gestuelle, nous signalons des trouvailles qui soulignent la complexité, la flexibilité et l’intentionnalité dans la communication. Ces aspects suggèrent que les fondations de notre langue sont enracinées dans notre passé primate.

Keywords:   referential communication, call combination, intentionality, social cognition, vocalization, gesture, multi-modal communication, flexibility, inference, language-trained apes

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