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July 10, 2012

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Gorilla Baby Talk Is All About The Gestures, Researchers Say

Moka, a 15-year-old female western lowland gorilla, at the Pittsburgh Zoo with her new baby boy.

It's not necessarily the same "googoos" and "gaagaas" humans might use with their babies, but gorillas do have their own baby talk, a new study suggests.

Animals in Print gorilla baby talkResearchers have found that gorillas older than three years will use a modified form of nonvocal cues when interacting with babies. Specifically, the adult gorillas will repeat their gestures and touch more when communicating.

"We were surprised that ... [gorilla] infants are addressed differently," researcher Dr. Eva Maria Luef of Freie University in Berlin told National Geographic.
Luef and study co-author Dr. Katja Liebal of the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. noticed this form of "baby talk" while filming 120 hours of footage of western lowland gorillas, according to the BBC. The gorillas were captive at Leipzig Zoo and Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in the U.K.
The researchers wrote in their study that as the gorillas adjust their communication for babies--a phenomenon called "motherese"--this indicates the adults are aware of an infant's maturity level.
Gorillas and humans belong to the Great Ape family, but no other apes have been found in studies to use baby talk. However, some research suggests rhesus monkeys are another example of "motherese"--they change vocalization when it's directed at babies.
Luef and Liebal's study of gorillas was published online May 29, 2012 in the American Journal of Primatology.

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