Deixis and Distance
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Eight chimpanzees living at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, Japan [ 16 ] were individually tested in an indoor room, separated from experimenters by railings made of metallic bars.
Two video cameras VC1 and VC2 recorded all sessions. Figure 1. Experimental setting. Two video cameras VC1 and VC2 recorded all experimental events. The requesting behaviours of the chimpanzees were tested under two conditions.
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The chimpanzees were given the food by E2 within 15 s of their first request regardless of their behaviour during the trial. The chimpanzees were alone while waiting for the food and were given the food by E1 15 s from her departure. Each chimpanzee performed 10 test sessions and five control sessions, up to one per day. All signals produced by the chimpanzees were coded from the video data and categorized into manual requesting gestures begging and pointing gestures through the railings , attention-getting behaviours clapping or banging , and others e.
The modalities of these signals were also categorized into visual or silent gestures e. Systematic variations in the qualitative features of these gestures based on the distance of the referent were expected; more specifically, spatially extended gestures were expected when requesting distant pieces of food. Descriptions of the statistical analyses and results are provided in the electronic supplementary material. Unsurprisingly, the chimpanzees produced intentional and communicative signals rather than merely food-associated signals.
Figure 2. More importantly, the chimpanzees adjusted their manual and non-vocal oral gestures according to the distance of the referent [ 7 ]. Interestingly, this effect was not significant for either the small opening or when the food was close. This suggests that, for a close referent, manual distance encoding is sufficient, whereas chimpanzees might need to provide more information via the oral system for a farther referent. The chimpanzees were able to take the presence of another individual into account and tailor their signals in an appropriate manner.
Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that chimpanzees are able to use distance-specific gestures. This ability to gesturally distinguish a close from a far space is quite similar to the sophisticated use of deictic words and gestural pointing used by humans and suggests a close connection between the manual and oral systems.
In the present study, chimpanzees used spatially extended oral and manual gestures to request a distant piece of food, a phenomenon observed in human language at a gestural level as well as a linguistic level [ 5 — 7 ]. More specifically, humans use spatially extended oral and manual gestures to designate a distant object by exhibiting a larger mouth opening and greater manual gesture amplitude for a farther object [ 6 , 7 ].
This example of phonosymbolism a non-arbitrary relationship between phonetics and semantics , in conjunction with the gestural encoding of distance in both the oral and manual gestures, indicates a close relationship between linguistic structures and communicative gestures in human language. The present results suggest that both deictic words and gestures may have emerged from highly symbolic oral and manual gestures spatially extended gestures for a farther reference , progressively integrated into language phonology open vowels.
The presence of motivated combinations between phonetics and semantics would have then facilitated the emergence of vocabulary by constraining the manner in which words were first mapped onto referents. The distance encoding mechanism requires further investigation in chimpanzees and other primate species that are more and less phylogenetically distant from humans, both in captivity and the wild, to provide novel evidence for the multimodal and phonosymbolic emergence of language. Coded data are available as electronic supplementary material.
All authors approved the final version of the manuscript and agree to be held accountable for the content therein. The authors have no competing interests to declare.
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