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Gorillas Seen Using "Baby Talk" Gestures—A First

Gorillas use a nonvocal form of "baby talk" to communicate with infants, a new study says. A first among primates, the discovery may give insight into how similar human communication evolved.

Lowland gorillas converse with each other primarily through nonvocal gestures.

Watch video of gorillas interacting with infants.

While researching how captive gorillas communicate during play, study leader Eva Maria Luef noticed that animals older than three years had a special way of interacting with younger gorillas.

With infants, the older gorillas used touch and repeated gestures—such as grabbing or stroking the infant's jaw—more frequently than they did when communicating with their peers.

"We were surprised that ... [gorilla] infants are addressed differently," said Luef, of the Department of Education and Psychology at Berlin's Freie University.

The behavior is evidence of a "gestural motherese," according to the study, published in June in the Journal of American Primatology.

Human motherese, or baby talk, is a universal mode of connection between adults and infants. Regardless of their language, people baby-talk in the same way, with a raised pitch and a swooping, sing-song style.

So far, the rhesus macaque is the only nonhuman primate known to use vocal baby talk.

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TAGGED: BEHAVIOR


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