Apes and Language


Short title and page number for student papers.

Apes and Language: A Review of the Literature

Full title, writer’s name, name and section number of course, instructor’s name, and date all centered.

Karen Shaw

Psychology 110, Section 2 Professor Verdi March 4, 1999

Sanders. funding for ape language research was sharply reduced following publication of their 1979 article “Can an Ape Create a Sentence?” In retrospect. What are the implications of the ape language studies? This review of the literature on apes and language focuses on these four questions. help readers follow the organization. Nim. so their skepticism about the apes’ abilities received much attention. researchers have demonstrated that the great apes (chimpanzees. Just how far that resemblance extends. Researchers agree that the apes have acquired fairly large vocabularies in American Sign Language and in artificial languages. Headings. and orangutans) resemble humans in language abilities more than had been thought possible. the conclusions of Terrace et al. centered. In fact. has been a matter of some controversy. How Spontaneously Have Apes Used Language? In an influential article. Terrace and his colleagues at Columbia University had trained a chimpanzee. Petitto. centered. How creatively have apes used language? 3. Terrace. responding to conscious or unconscious cues. Although some early . however. How spontaneously have apes used language? 2. in American Sign Language. A signal phrase names all four authors and gives date in parentheses. seem to have been premature. and Bever (1979) argued that the apes in language experiments were not using language spontaneously but were merely imitating their trainers. Can apes create sentences? 4. gorillas. 1.Apes and Language 2 Full title. but they have drawn quite different conclusions in addressing the following questions: The writer sets up her organization in the introduction. Apes and Language: A Review of the Literature Over the past thirty years.

even as early as the 1970s R. An ampersand links the names of two authors in parentheses. The extent to which chimpanzees spontaneously use language may depend on their training. placed in the care of the signing chimpanzee Washoe. his name appears in parentheses. it is not surprising that apes might rely on similar signals (Johnson. Since 1979. There is considerable evidence that apes have signed to one another spontaneously. “Interestingly. Terrace trained Nim using the behaviorist technique of operant conditioning. Citation from a long work has page number preceded by “p. p. He learned only from Washoe and [another chimp] Ally” (p. At Central Washington University the baby chimpanzee Loulis. Many other researchers have used a Because the author of the work is not named in the signal phrase. A. philosopher Stuart Shanker of York University has questioned the emphasis placed on cuing. T. 1995). mastered nearly fifty signs in American Sign Language without help from humans.” with other team members wearing earphones so that they “could not hear the instructions and so could not cue Kanzi. gorillas Koko and Michael have been observed signing to one another (Patterson & Linden.” appears in parentheses. without trainers present. 244). a page number preceded by “p. Gardner and B. so it is not surprising that many of Nim’s signs were cued. along with the date. 51). Gardner were conducting double-blind experiments that prevented any possibility of cuing (Fouts. Lewin (1991) reported that instructions for bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee) Kanzi were “delivered by someone out of his sight. Like many of the apes studied. “Loulis did not pick up any of the seven signs that we [humans] used around him. researchers have diligently guarded against cuing. 1997.” For a quotation.Apes and Language 3 ape language studies had not been rigorously controlled to eliminate cuing. 1981). pointing out that since human communication relies on the ability to understand cues and gestures in a social setting. More recently. For example.” wrote researcher Fouts (1997). Brackets are used to indicate words not in original source. even unconsciously” (p. 99). .

1981. And the gorilla Koko has a long list of creative names to her credit: “elephant baby” to describe a Pinocchio doll. of a swan. The bonobo Kanzi has requested particular films by combining symbols in a creative way. Other examples are not so easily explained away. Kanzi began to use symbols for “campfire” and “TV” (Eckholm.” . For instance. and so on (Patterson & Linden. who knew signs for “water” and “bird. O’Sullivan and Yeager (1989) contrasted the two techniques. in that order” (p. The writer interprets the evidence. Terrace et al. using Terrace’s Nim as their subject. 895). all four authors were named. 1985). “bottle match” to describe a cigarette lighter. 146). They found that Nim’s use of language was significantly more spontaneous under conversational conditions. tal study.” once signed “water bird” when in the presence When this article was first cited. she doesn’t just report it. p. Surely Koko did not first see an elephant and then a baby before signing “elephant baby”--or a bottle and a match before signing “bottle match. How Creatively Have Apes Used Language? There is considerable evidence that apes have invented creative names. Washoe. “finger bracelet” to describe a ring. it does not hold. One of the earliest and most controversial examples involved the Gardners’ chimpanzee Washoe.Apes and Language 4 conversational approach that parallels the process by which human children acquire language. to ask for Quest for Fire. “et al. If Terrace’s analysis of the “water bird” example is applied to the examples just mentioned. In an experimenThe word “and” links the names of two authors in the signal phrase.’” Washoe may simply have been “identifying correctly a body of water and a bird. In subsequent citations of a work with three to five authors. a film about early primates discovering fire. (1979) suggested that there was “no basis for concluding that Washoe was characterizing the swan as a ‘bird that inhabits water.” is used after the first author’s name.

such as “chase. 560). 1990. Kanzi. a bonobo trained by Savage-Rumbaugh. Greenfield and Savage-Rumbaugh (1990) wrote that Kanzi rarely “repeated himself or formed combinations that were semantically unrelated” (p. but the sequences were often random and repetitious. .” would appear first. For instance. Kanzi’s abilities were shown to be similar to those of a 2-1/2-year-old human. The writer draws attention to an important article. In a recent study. Kanzi began on his own to create certain patterns that may not exist in English but can be found among deaf children and in other human languages. 556). Kanzi used his own rules when combining action symbols. More important. p. Alia. More recent studies with bonobos at the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta have broken new ground. 1979. Apes strung together various signs. Kanzi learned that in twoword utterances action precedes object.Apes and Language 5 Can Apes Create Sentences? The early ape language studies offered little proof that apes could combine symbols into grammatically ordered sentences. a practice often followed by young deaf children (Greenfield & Savage-Rumbaugh. He would use the lexigram first and then gesture. Kanzi also created his own rules when combining gestures and lexigrams. Rumbaugh (1995) reported that “Kanzi’s comprehension of The writer gives a page number for this summary because the article is long.. Lexigrams that involved an invitation to play. an ordering also used by human children at the two-word stage. p. For example. Nim’s series of 16 signs is a case in point: “give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you” (Terrace et al. seems to understand simple grammatical rules about lexigram order. lexigrams that indicated what was to be done during play (“hide”) would appear second. 895). In a major article reporting on their research.

a page number is required. researchers have found that. coauthors of the 1979 article that caused such skepticism earlier (Gibbons. “the language-controlling PT [planum temporale] is larger on the left side of the chimps’ brain than on . Through brain scans of live chimpanzees. 244). Linguist Noam Chomsky has strongly The writer presents a balanced view of the philosophical controversy. Noting that apes’ brains are similar to those of our human ancestors. 722). Pointing out that 99% of our genetic material is held in common with the chimpanzees. as have Petitto and Bever. 540).Apes and Language 6 over 600 novel sentences of request was very comparable to Alia’s. sistance on approximately 70% of the sentences” (p. What Are the Implications of the Ape Language Studies? Kanzi’s linguistic abilities are so impressive that they may help us understand how humans came to acquire language. both complied with the requests without asFor quotations. as with humans. The suggestion that there is a continuity in the linguistic abilities of apes and humans has created much controversy. 1990). asserted that language is a unique human characteristic (Booth. Greenfield and Savage-Rumbaugh (1990) have suggested that something of the “evolutionary root of human language” can be found in the “linguistic abilities of the great apes” (p. Terrace has continued to be skeptical of the claims made for the apes. Leakey and Lewin (1992) argued that in ape brains “the cognitive foundations on which human language could be built are already present” (p. Ongoing studies at the Yerkes Primate Research Center have revealed remarkable similarities in the brains of chimpanzees and humans. 1991). Recently. neurobiologists have made discoveries that may cause even the skeptics to take notice.

57). The tone of the conclusion is objective. 1998. which are less closely related to humans than apes are” (Begley.Apes and Language 7 the right. researchers have shown over the past thirty years that the gap between the linguistic abilities of apes and humans is far less dramatic than was once believed. p. Although the ape language studies continue to generate controversy. . But it is not lateralized in monkeys.

A3. Aping language. B. T. Parker & K. C. Double-spacing used throughout. (1998. R. G. Monkeying with language: Is chimp using words or merely aping handlers? The Washington Post. C3. & Savage-Rumbaugh. New Scientist. A. (1990. E. Look who’s talking now. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.). Gibbons. E. (1991). (1989).chimp. (1997). 49-52. C1. . Heading is centered. pp. & Lewin.santafe. C. (1990). April 29). S. June 25). Grammatical combination in Pan paniscus: Processes of learning and invention in the evolution and development of language. Déjà vu all over again: Chimplanguage wars. M. In student papers the first line of an entry is at left margin. Johnson. C1. O’Sullivan. 130. T. Gibson (Eds. 540–578). June 6). October 29). “Language” and intelligence in monkeys and apes: Comparative developmental perspectives (pp. 269-279).edu/ ~johnson/articles. Booth. Kanzi the chimp: A life in science. R. R. In R. Leakey. References Begley. Lewin. Communicative context and linguistic competence: The effect of social setting on a chimpanzee’s conversational skill. subsequent lines indent ¹⁄₂ (or five spaces). A.). E. The New York Times. S.Apes and Language 8 List of references begins on a new page. p. Albany: SUNY Press. Van Cantfort (Eds. Teaching sign language to chimpanzees (pp. R. (1995. 56-58. C10. Next of kin: What chimpanzees taught me about who we are. P.. pp. W. Available: http://www. 1561-1562. & Yeager. (1992). (1991. New York: William Morrow. Fouts. Gardner. Science. Newsweek 131.. New York: Doubleday. In S. & T. 251.html [2 February 1998].. Eckholm. List is alphabetized by authors’ names. Chimp talk debate: Is it really language? The New York Times [Online]. January 19). Gardner. R. Greenfield. P. (1985. Origins reconsidered: In search of what makes us human.

Apes and Language 9 Patterson. .. 206. Primate language and cognition: Common ground. 891-902. F. New York: Holt. E. Rinehart & Winston. Terrace. L.. & Bever. Rumbaugh. A. (1979).. H. & Linden. Social Research. R. (1995). G. S. T. D. J. 711-730. The education of Koko. Can an ape create a sentence? Science. Petitto.. (1981). 62. Sanders.

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