Dance displays in gibbons: Biological and Linguistic perspectives
Camille Coye, Kai Caspar, Pritty Patel-Grosz
November 2023

Female crested gibbons (genus Nomascus) are known to perform stereotyped sequences of jerking movements, involving the rump and extremities. These dances have attracted little scientific attention and thus their structure and meaning remain largely obscure. We analysed close-range video recordings of captive crested gibbons to extract detailed descriptions of dance in four Nomascus species (N. annamensis, N. gabriellae, N. leucogenys, & N. siki). We report results from a survey among relevant professionals clarifying behavioural contexts of dance in captive and wild crested gibbons. Our results demonstrate that dances in Nomascus represent a common and intentional form of visual communication restricted to sexually mature females. While primarily used as a proceptive signal to solicit copulation, dance occurs in a wide range of contexts related to arousal and/or frustration in captivity. A linguistically informed view of this complex sequential behaviour demonstrates that gibbon dances can follow a nested grouping organisation – a pattern so far not described for visual displays in other non-human primates. We propose that crested gibbon dances likely evolved from less elaborate rhythmic proceptive signals, such as those found in siamangs and hoolock gibbons. Although dance displays in humans and crested gibbons share a number of key characteristics, they cannot be assumed to be homologous. Nevertheless, gibbon dances represent a valuable model behaviour to study the utilisation of complex gestural signals in hominoid primates.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007717
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: under review
keywords: dance syntax, primate communication, super linguistics, small apes, syntax
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