Limits of Primate Talk

  • Thomas W. Simon
Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 11)


Who are the participants in this conversation? A child therapist and one of those menacing hyperactive children that seem to be overpopulating our schools these days? Or is this a cuckoo-nest dialogue between Ken Kesey and the Big Nurse? Or could it simply be an adult talking to a child-which some claim to be the simplest dialogic form imaginable? Would it be at all startling to discover that this is the first rendition of a linguistic interchange between a nonhuman primate and a digital computer? Although our example is contrived, it is not very contrived, consisting, as it does, of an amalgam of expressions from Weizenbaum’s (1976) computer program ELIZA (see also Boden, 1977) and the gorilla Koko’s recorded utterances (Patterson & Linden, 1981). By constructing this machine-ape communication have we bridged a gap greater than molecular biologists are doing between prokaryotes and eukaryotes with recombinant DNA? Have we erected the ultimate Turing test (which seems to be a primary one for primatologists) whereby both parties can now be said to understand language because you, the observers, were fooled into thinking both of them were human?


Nonhuman Primate Sign Language Primate Language World Knowledge Iconic Gesture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1983

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  • Thomas W. Simon

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