Deictic Gestures in Ravens

Ravens can point. It’s scary how clever birds can be.

Guys! Guys! Guys!

Ravens can point. It’s scary how clever birds can be. People keep sending me this paper so I thought I’d link to it here so that people know I’ve seen it and stop bothering me (I actually don’t mind being bothered, especially if it’s about interesting things like this, please don’t stop). Abstract below.

Around the age of one year, human children start to use gestures to coordinate attention towards a social partner and an object of mutual interest. These referential gestures have been suggested as the foundation to engage in language, and have so far only been observed in great apes. Virtually nothing is known about comparable skills in non-primate species. Here we record thirty-eight social interactions between seven raven (Corvus corax) dyads in the Northern Alps, Austria during three consecutive field seasons. All observed behaviours included the showing and/or offering of non-edible items (for example, moss, twigs) to recipients, leading to frequent orientation of receivers to the object and the signallers and subsequent affiliative interactions. We report evidence that the use of declarative gestures is not restricted to the primate lineage and that these gestures may function as ‘testing-signals’ to evaluate the interest of a potential partner or to strengthen an already existing bond.

If you’re interested in reading about referencial gestures in humans and chipanzees and why these things are relevant to the evolution of language you should read Michael’s post here.

Scientifically Pedantic Movie Reviews…


I’ve written a review of the new Planet of the Apes film (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, ARGH! OH GOD THE PLANET IS RISING etc.). It concentrates on the linguistic abilities of apes a bit, but I hope I haven’t made it too dull for the purposes of a movie review. There should be more scientifically/linguistically pedantic reviewing going on out there… get on it guys. It’s up on now. Here’s a excerpt and link:

As someone who has dedicated quite a lot of time to reading about the linguistic abilities of apes, I didn’t enter the cinema to see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” hoping for viable or realistic linguistic science. After all, we’ve all seen the original films and the apes talk just as humans do. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this would never happen in the real world, and this is not just because of the cognitive abilities of apes, but also because of the vocal tract of apes. That is to say that no matter how intelligent an ape is, it will not be possible for that ape to create the sounds of English as the physical ability simply isn’t there…

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