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.