The gestures that chimpanzees use to communicate with each other are subject to the same linguistic law as human language, as just discovered by a team of British scientists whose work has published by the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The attempts to find and describe similarities between languages by linguists have always been complicated. Most of them limit themselves to the point where they use formal models considering their components (phonetics, syntax, morphology and semantics) separately. And so they have been able to develop certain linguistic laws and statistics that are repeated in all natural languages.
What this team has done, led by Professor Stuart Semple of the University of Roehampton (United Kingdom), has been the transfer of those laws to chimpanzees and study if they could also apply to their communication. They took, Zipf's law of contraction, according to which the length of a word is inversely proportional to the frequency of the usage. The shorter it is, the more it is used. Menzerath's law, states that longer language units consist shorter components. For example, syllables in a longer word will be shorter than syllables in a short word.
The experiment was carried out with 48 chimpanzees and 359 communication clips. The 2,137 gestures identified by the team of scientists were divided into 58 types. 873 resulted to be separate units. The rest observed that they were used in sets (from two to 45). Based on this data, they confirmed that Zipf’s contraction law was not as useful as Menzerath's law. There is a direct correlation in the subgroup of gestures that chimpanzees made with their body. The scientists highlight the importance of this type of studies to decipher the evolutionary nature of communication.