Chapter 1. <i>Pan symbolicus</i>

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Traditional views of non-human primate communication held that it was hard-wired, involuntary, and emotionally expressive only. All of these conclusions have been proven wrong: chimpanzees use natural vocalisations to signal the nature and location of foodstuffs, that is, spontaneous referentiality. Gibbons signal anti-predator alarm by using song-elements in rule-governed combinations. Chimpanzees show tactical deception in their recruitment screams, tailoring these to the audience. Pant-hoots show local variation that if found in human language, would be called dialects. Males devise individualised courtship routines. Some of these signals become group-typical, and such gestures are neither iconic nor onomatopoeic, but instead are arbitrary. Primatological studies of apes behaving spontaneously show us repeatedly that their communicative and cognitive capacities exceed our anthropocentric expectations.


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