Volume 15, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
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Great apes do not possess language or any comparable system of symbolic communication. Yet they communicate intentionally and possess cognitive competencies like categorization and decontextualization. These provide the basis for mental concepts and the side of linguistic symbols. The arbitrarily linked and conventionalized for expressing these meanings, however, seem to be largely missing. We propose two strategies that may allow great apes to communicate a wide array of meanings without creating numerous arbitrarily linked forms. First, we suggest the existence of ‘population-specific semantic shifts’: within a population a communicative signal’s meaning is modified without changing its form, resulting in a new ‘vocabulary item’. Second, we propose that great apes, in addition to possessing sophisticated inferential abilities, intentionally display behaviors without overt communicative intent to provide eavesdropping conspecifics with ‘natural meaning’ (in the Gricean sense) and thus to influence their behavior.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): auditory gestures; great apes; intentionality; symbolic communication
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