togog: Subproject P2

Bodily contact and pragmatic function: Action, ritualization, and abstraction in human and non-human primates

Researchers: Ellen Fricke, Katja Liebal, and Christel Schneider



1. Analysis and comparison of behaviour involving bodily contact in apes and in humans engaged in social interaction;
2. The semiotic reconstruction of these processes, with a focus on the communicative function of greetings in humans and in non-human primates.

This subproject started in spring 2008. So far, significant progress has been made towards attaining the second goal: Fricke has developed a bio-semiotic model for multimodal interaction which is based on the work of the biologist and founder of modern ethology, Jakob von Uexküll. In this model, two functional cycles, based on Uexküll's bio-semiotic sign concept, are connected. Whereas in Uexküll’s monologic model, sender and recipient coexist (receptors = recipient, effectors = sender) within one organism, Fricke’s proposal additionally allows for the description of complex feedback cycles in multimodal interactions both in humans and in non-human primates. This model provides an important theoretical framework for further descriptions of gestures and actions involving bodily contact within particular pragmatic contexts such as, for example, greetings.

Our next steps will be:
1. Data collection of human greetings;
2. Application of Fricke’s basic model to data of interactions between humans and between non-human primates;
3. Further elaboration of this model as a tertium comparationis;
4. Comparison of particular types of behaviour involving bodily contact in apes and in humans engaged in greetings;
5. Conclusions pertaining to the evolution of semiotic processes in behaviour involving bodily contact.