Facial-vocal displays, gestures and language

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Animals possess nonverbal displays consisting of chemical signals, postures, gestures, calls, and, in mammals, of facial-vocal expressions, essentially reflecting intentions and attitudes of the sender. Humans, in addition, possess a verbal language with an ‘unlimited’ repertoire of referential and representational symbols, syntactically combined into meaningful complexes. Because of the vital role of speech the emancipation of vocal utterances in primates is seen as the beginning of linguistic evolution. However, in humans gesturing is closely associated with linguistic expression, favouring a gestural origin. Here I compare features of gesturing and facial-vocal expression in our primate relatives, e.g. referentiality and intentionality, contrasting these with linguistic performance. The conclusion is that a choice between one of the former as the main precursor of language cannot as yet be made.


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