Nautilus

The Communication We Share with Apes

There are few one-offs in life on Earth—rarely can a single species boast a trait or ability that no other possesses. But human language is one such oddity. Our ability to use subtle combinations of sounds produced by our vocal cords to create words and sentences, which when combined with grammatical rules, convey complex ideas.

There were attempts in the 1950s to teach chimpanzees to “speak” some words, but these failed. And with no other living relatives able to communicate as we do, it has made understanding the origins of language a knotty problem.

But Adrien Meguerditchian, a primatologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Aix-Marseille University, believes that gestures could be

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