Chapter published in:How the Brain Got Language – Towards a New Road Map
Edited by Michael A. Arbib
[Benjamins Current Topics 112] 2020
► pp. 200–215
Pantomime and imitation in great apes
Implications for reconstructing the evolution of language
This paper assesses great apes’ abilities for pantomime and action imitation, two communicative abilities proposed as key contributors to language evolution. Modern great apes, the only surviving nonhuman hominids, are important living models of the communicative platform upon which language evolved. This assessment is based on 62 great ape pantomimes identified via data mining plus published reports of great ape action imitation. Most pantomimes were simple, imperative, and scaffolded by partners’ relationship and scripts; some resemble declaratives, some were sequences of several inter-related elements. Imitation research consistently shows great apes perform action imitation at low fidelity, but also that action imitation may not represent a distinct process or function. Discussion focuses on how findings may advance reconstruction of the evolution of language, including what great apes may contribute to understanding ‘primitive’ forms of pantomime and imitation and how to improve their study.
Keywords: pantomime, imitation, great apes, language evolution
Published online: 11 August 2020
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