We have introduced gestures in this topic of language evolution by exploring the different types of gestures, namely representational gestures, beat gestures and interactive gestures. In both infants and animals, imitating gestures is a way of learning how to communicate. Infants imitate to match what they see to what they do, while animals imitate as a form of social learning – by imprinting behaviors from an adult or peer to a child.
We also discussed about the popular Gestural Theory in the evolution of language, comparing that to the Theory of Language in terms of human communication. To sum up, The Gestural Theory provides a wide range of evidence accounting for the precedence of gestures over speech in the origins of language, garnering support and backing by many linguists and evolutionists. For example, neurophysiological evidence provided by mirror neurons supports the development of language from gestures. The vast amount of research done on gesturing in animal communication and the homology in mirror systems in the brain have supported that gestures served as an important means of primate communication before vocalizations ultimately led to speech. Gestures in animals, in particular non-human primates, are hence important in providing evidence of this form of primate communication before vocalizations were possible. Studies done on both apes and monkeys support the communicative functions of gesturing in animals, with its wide variety of gesture repertoires providing clues to speech repertoires today.
The case study on Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) provides an interesting insight on how home sign systems and gestures have resulted in the birth of a new language across two cohorts of children, following the formation of a deaf community in Nicaragua. It shows just how impactful gestures and signs are in our world, where languages are constantly evolving over time.
We hope you have gained greater insight on gestures as a mode of communication present not only before vocalization and speech, but have also been integrated into our communication systems today as a supplement to speech.
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