orangutan

Orangutans in captivity have developed new gestures to communicate meaning

barbaraaaa/Getty Images/iStockphoto

What’s in a somersault? A flap of the lip, a spit of water in the face? More than meets the eye, it seems. They may all be new ways of communicating that orangutans have come up with in captivity. This suggests that such gestural creativity may be ancestral in the great ape line, adding a new piece to the puzzle of language evolution.

Using new expressions to convey things – known as productivity in linguistics – is one of the fundamental building blocks of complex language, and it …