Reevaluating Chimpanzee Vocal Signals: Toward a Multimodal Account of the Origins of Human Communication

  • Adam SeeEmail author
Part of the Interdisciplinary Evolution Research book series (IDER, volume 1)


The vocalizations of chimpanzees have long been thought to be largely genetically predetermined and therefore unlearnable, involuntarily produced, and broadcast indiscriminately. Tomasello (2008) has recently written that, while chimpanzee vocalizations share these constraints and limitations with the vocal displays of all other non-human animals, the attention-getting gestures of chimpanzees are an “evolutionary novelty” because they are, in his estimation, capable of being produced intentionally. As such, chimpanzee gestures are highly significant to discussions of animal cognition and the evolution of human communication. This chapter challenges Tomasello’s grounds for restricting this evolutionary novelty to the gestural modality. I argue that, in fact, recent evidence suggests that there is a significant functional difference between certain chimpanzee vocalizations and the vocal displays of other animals and that, based on Tomasello’s own criteria for intentionality, gestures do not appear to have a monopoly on intentional communication in chimpanzees. Ultimately, this chapter aims to provide grounds for a multimodal account of the evolution of human communication. I conclude by suggesting that although there is reason to doubt that chimpanzees can communicate intentionally, there is no more reason to doubt this ability in the vocal modality than there is in the gestural modality.


Tomasello Vocalizations Intentionality Chimpanzee Animal communication Evolution of language 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGraduate Center of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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