Team Deciphers Orangutan Sign Language

Gestures analyzed to compile 'orangutan dictionary'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2010 2:09 AM CDT
Team Deciphers Orangutan Sign Language
Mei, a 25-year-old orangutan, is shown at Monkey Jungle in Miami.   (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

(Newser) – A bite of the air, blowing a raspberry, or a backroll means "playtime" in orangutan, say researchers who have completed the most extensive study yet of great ape gestures. The team deciphered the meanings of 40 common orangutan gestures that the animals—the least vocal of the great apes—use to communicate with each other in the wild, the Independent reports.

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Many of the gestures—including a shooing gesture to mean "go away," moving the hand to the mouth to beg for food, and putting an arm around another ape to mean "come here"—are very human-like. Researchers say the findings shed new light on the origins of human communication millions of year ago, suggesting that it's actually the human gestures that are orangutan-like.
(Read more apes stories.)

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