Man’s closest animal relative, chimps, communicate in a distinctly ‘human-like’ way, scientists have found.
The primates use gestures that follow some of the same rules as basic human language.
One was Zipf’s law of abbreviation, which says commonly used words tend to be shorter, and the other is Menzerath’s law, which predicts that larger linguistic structures are made up of shorter parts – such as syllables within spoken words.
Experts made the discovery after studying videos of wild chimps living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest Reserve.
Like other great apes, chimpanzees lack the ability to speak but have previously been shown to use meaningful gestures to communicate with one another.
Scientists have made the comparison to deaf people ‘signing’ to each other.
The study found that chimp gestures are underpinned by linguistic laws which are similar to those seen in human language.
The team from the University of Roehampton focused on two particular rules known to apply across the board of human languages.
The scientists analysed more than 2,000 of around 58 different types of ‘play’ gesture employed by the Budongo Forest chimps.
They found that the animals followed these rules, as predicted by the two linguistic laws.
More frequently used gestures were shorter in duration, and longer signing sequences were made up of shorter gesture ‘syllables’.