Open defence of thesis by Ms.Shreejata Gupta

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus





Title: Other Voices: Gestural Communication of Wild Bonnet Macaques Macaca radiata in the Bandipur National Park, Southern India


Candidate:   Ms.Shreejata Gupta

School of Natural & Engineering Sciences


Adviser:  Prof. Anindya Sinha


Date:  Thursday, 14 January, 2016

Time:  11: 30 am

Venue:  Lecture Hall, NIAS


Abstract: Human language is probably one of the most mysterious and intriguing of all behavioural expressions that one encounters in the living world. Although language is mostly viewed as expressed through spoken words alone, a crucial component of human language comprises gestural acts. It has been hypothesised that gestural communication is an evolutionarily older phenomenon, which developed much earlier than did speech in the modern human lineage. This evokes several important questions pertaining to the phylogeny of gestures in nonhuman primate species as well as the biological history of such communication systems and eventually, human language. Over the past few decades, systematic methods used to study human gestures have been applied to investigate gestural communication in apes, the nonhuman primates genetically closest to humans. Observations have revealed remarkable similarities between apes and humans in terms of flexible production, intentional use and arguably, even referential use while there remains significant gaps in various parameters such as iconic and symbolic gesturing. In non-ape species, as, for instance, monkeys, gestural communication has rarely been studied and not always following the definitions standardised for apes. Thus, there is a mismatch in the comparative understanding of gestures in apes and non-apes, given the lack of common grounds, an enterprise essential to trace out language-like markers in the primate lineage. I provide fundamental insights in this regard through my doctoral research that attempted to understand the gestural communication system of bonnet macaques, an Old World monkey species endemic to peninsular India, in the Bandipur National Park of Karnataka state. I have defined the gestural repertoire of this species following the criteria established in ape gestural research, investigated age and sex differences in gesture use by individual macaques and, finally, tried to understand the developmental processes underlying their ontogeny. The results of my study indicate that bonnet macaques do gesture in ways similar to those of apes, although with distinct characteristics of their own. This thesis is, thus, a first step in an endeavour to fill the gaps that have existed in our knowledge of nonhuman primate gestures, a field in its infancy, and especially so by bridging the ape and non-ape worlds of gestural communication.



All are invited to attend

Thursday, January 14, 2016