CHIMPS-Gesture

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a family meal may have been a relatively quiet event. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

We’re listening to the sounds of chimpanzees vocalizing, and although they do make sounds, chimpanzees communicate mostly in gestures.

Scientists who study chimps believe that gestures may once have been humans only means of communication. It turns out that hand gestures may actually facilitate tongue movement in speech – there is apparently a neurological connection between the two. Now chimpanzees communicate mostly in gestures. And because we share a common ancestoral bond with them, could their behavior be a glimpse of how we humans communicated in the past?

We asked Roger Fouts, co-director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University.

“What we’re beginning to think now is that we were gestural for probably millions and millions of years, and only recently perhaps maybe two-hundred thousand years ago did vocal speech begin to come in.”

The idea is that as humans began walking upright, our hands were freed to do other things besides locomote. As we began to use our hands to communicate in gestures, our tongues in turn became more active. This allowed us to develop the vocal speech used today.

“The essence of language is not the fact that it comes out of your mouth. The essence of language is how you put these communicative gestures or sounds together into a mutually understandable form of communication.”

And anyone who’s used to accompanying their speech with expressive hand gestures would have to agree. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

CHIMPS-Gesture

Scientists studying chimpanzees think their behavior could offer insight into how we humans communicated in the past.
Air Date:02/28/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a family meal may have been a relatively quiet event. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

We're listening to the sounds of chimpanzees vocalizing, and although they do make sounds, chimpanzees communicate mostly in gestures.

Scientists who study chimps believe that gestures may once have been humans only means of communication. It turns out that hand gestures may actually facilitate tongue movement in speech - there is apparently a neurological connection between the two. Now chimpanzees communicate mostly in gestures. And because we share a common ancestoral bond with them, could their behavior be a glimpse of how we humans communicated in the past?

We asked Roger Fouts, co-director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University.

"What we're beginning to think now is that we were gestural for probably millions and millions of years, and only recently perhaps maybe two-hundred thousand years ago did vocal speech begin to come in."

The idea is that as humans began walking upright, our hands were freed to do other things besides locomote. As we began to use our hands to communicate in gestures, our tongues in turn became more active. This allowed us to develop the vocal speech used today.

"The essence of language is not the fact that it comes out of your mouth. The essence of language is how you put these communicative gestures or sounds together into a mutually understandable form of communication."

And anyone who's used to accompanying their speech with expressive hand gestures would have to agree. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.