Marlen Fröhlich

Marlen Fröhlich, Dr.

Post Doc

Tel.: +41 44 635 54 13

Fax.: +41 44 635 68 04


Research Interests

I am interested in the phylogeny, function and ontogeny of multimodal communication, with an emphasis on implications for the evolutionary origins of human language. Language is commonly narrowed down to speech, but human face-to-face communication is in fact an intrinsically multimodal phenomenon. Despite growing evidence that the communication of nonhuman primates, our main models for language evolution, is also inherently multimodal, most studies have focused on either gestures or vocalizations in isolation.

My current research focuses on the function and ontogeny of multimodal communication in Bornean and Sumatran orangutans in both wild and captive settings. The orangutansʼ interspecific differences in sociability and their arboreal lifestyle allow us to examine to what extent signal usage is affected by the socio-ecological environment. Such a 2x2 comparative design might provide novel insights on the evolution of human language as part of a multimodal system.



Fröhlich, M., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2019). The ontogeny of intentional communication in chimpanzees in the wild. Developmental Science 22:e12716.


Fröhlich, M., & Hobaiter, C. (2018). The development of gestural communication in great apes. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 72:194.

Fröhlich, M. & van Schaik, C.P. (2018). The function of primate multimodal communication. Animal Cognition 21:619–629.

Pika, S. & Fröhlich, M. (2018). Gestural acquisition in great apes: the social negotiation hypothesis. Animal Cognition. Available online 24/01/18.


Fröhlich, M. (2017). Catarrhine communication. In: Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Eds. Vonk, J., Shackelford, T. K. Springer International Publishing, Cham.

Fröhlich, M. (2017). Taking turns across channels: Conversation-analytic tools in animal communication. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 80:201–209.

Fröhlich, M., Müller, G., Zeiträg, C., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2017). Gestural development of chimpanzees in the wild: the impact of interactional experience. Animal Behaviour 134:271–282.


Fröhlich, M., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2016). Play-solicitation gestures in chimpanzees in the wild: Flexible adjustment to social circumstances and individual matrices. Royal Society Open Science 3:160278.

Fröhlich, M., Kuchenbuch, P.H., Müller, G., Fruth, B., Furuichi, T., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2016). Cooperative communication and communication styles in bonobos and chimpanzees in the wild: same same but different? In: The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11), Eds. Roberts, S.G., Cuskley, C., et al.

Fröhlich, M., Kuchenbuch, P.H., Müller, G., Fruth, B., Furuichi, T., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2016). Unpeeling the layers of language: Bonobos and chimpanzees engage in cooperative turn-taking sequences. Scientific Reports 6:25887.

Fröhlich, M., Wittig, R.M. & Pika, S. (2016). Should I stay or should I go? Initiation of joint travel in mother-infant dyads of two chimpanzee communities in the wild. Animal Cognition 19:483–500


Fröhlich, M., Berger, A., Kramer-Schadt, S., Heckmann, I. & Martins, Q. (2012). Complementing GPS cluster analysis with activity data for studies of leopard (Panthera pardus) diet. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 42:104–110.