What Might be Learned From Studying Language in the Chimpanzee? The Importance of Symbolizing Oneself
Ten years ago, there was little reason to believe that much could be learned from studying language in the chimpanzee. Earlier reports (Hayes 1951; Kellogg & Kellogg 1967) of a chimpanzee’s inability to use language seemed to demonstrate that biological factors limited the extent to which the chimpanzee could learn to use abstract symbols. Thanks to the work of the Gardners (1969, 1971), Premack (1970a, 1971b), Fouts (1972b, 1975a,c), and Rumbaugh and Glasersfeld (1973), we now know a chimpanzee has a much larger linguistic potential than was ever imagined. Once allowance was made for the vocal limitations of a chimpanzee (Lieberman 1968; Lieberman, Klatt, & Wilson 1972), it became possible to teach it to use arbitrary gestures, plastic tokens, or the lexigrams of a computer console in a manner that parallels the human use of single symbols. Most provocative have been demonstrations that chimpanzees can use sequences of symbols. This suggests a syntactic potential as well as a symbolic one.
KeywordsSign Language Human Language Human Child Linguistic Concept Human Companion
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