Scientists decipher chimpanzee sign language

Researchers have created dictionary with 66 gestures with 'meanings'. When mother shows foot to child, it means 'get on my back'.

Chimpanzees communicate with gestures, which have specific meanings like "climb on my back," or "stop," say scientists, who have created a dictionary with 66 such gestures.

The study, published July 3, 2014 on the website of the journal Current Biology, indicates that these gestures "have specific meanings," ranging from "simple request associated with simple gestures to a longer, more complex conversation." in terms of gestures.

Chimpanzee Gestures Have Specific Meanings, Study Finds

The research, based on about 4,500 chimpanzee swap moments, allowed us to rescue 66 gestures with 19 different messages, the authors, Catherine Hobaiter and Richard Byrne, from the University of Saint Andrews, Scotland, point out.

So when a mother shows her sole to her young child, she means, "get on my back." Touching the other's arm means "scratch me," and chewing leaves draws the other's sexual attention, the authors described in the five-page study.

"This is the first time we have been able to distinguish the gestures used in the 'real world' from those used to communicate and play, especially by captive chimpanzees," the researchers say.

Certain gestures are unambiguous, such as chewing leaves to seduce, but others do. This is the case, for example, of grabbing the other, which may mean "stop", "climb on my back", or "go away".

The study was conducted with chimpanzees filmed in Uganda between 2007 and 2009.