Cultural Transmission of a Human Language in a Chimpanzee Mother-Infant Relationship

  • Roger S. Fouts
  • Alan D. Hirsch
  • Deborah H. Fouts


Critical to the study of language are the preconceived theoretical notions a scientist brings to the experimental situation. For example, in the early attempts to teach chimpanzees a language (Witmer, 1909; Kohts, 1935; Hayes and Hayes, 1951, 1952; Kellogg, 1968) the egocentric error that language must be vocal prevailed. These approaches attempted to teach vocal speech to the chimpanzee because humans use vocal speech. Their error was to ignore the nature of the chimpanzee. For example, the repertoire of behaviors that the chimpanzee brings to the experimental situation. These approaches attempted to force the chimpanzee to use a communication modality inappropriate to its biology. Gardner and Gardner (1969, 1971, 1975) avoided this error by using a human gestural language compatible with the chimpanzees’ communication system in the wild. The Gardners’ approach was consistent with prior attempts in that they all considered language to be inseparable from social context and for this reason the chimpanzees were raised in the socially rich environment of a human home.


Language Acquisition Maternal Behavior Cultural Transmission Object Manipulation Captive Chimpanzee 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger S. Fouts
    • 1
  • Alan D. Hirsch
    • 1
  • Deborah H. Fouts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCentral Washington UniversityEllensburgUSA

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