Evidence and Interpretation in Great Ape Gestural Communication

  • Richard Moore Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
Keywords: Non-human great apes, Gestural communication, Pointing


Tomasello and colleagues have offered various arguments to explain why apes find the comprehension of pointing difficult. They have argued that: (i) apes fail to understand communicative intentions; (ii) they fail to understand informative, cooperative communication, and (iii) they fail to track the common ground that pointing comprehension requires. In the course of a review of the literature on apes’ production and comprehension of pointing, I reject (i) and (ii), and offer a qualified defence of (iii). Drawing on work on expressive communication, I sketch an account of a mechanism by which ape gestural communication may proceed: the showing of expressive and naturally meaningful embodied behaviours. Such gestures are easily interpretable because they present rich evidence for a speaker’s message. By contrast, pointing typically provides poor evidence for a speaker’s message, which must therefore be inferred from considerations in the interlocutors’ common ground. This makes pointing comprehension comparatively difficult.

How to Cite
Moore, R. (2013). Evidence and Interpretation in Great Ape Gestural Communication. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies, 6(24), 27-51. Retrieved from https://www.humanamente.eu/index.php/HM/article/view/149