Early Reports about Language in Animals

  • William A. Hillix
  • Duane M. Rumbaugh
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


Animal language has been a subject of discussion in myth and fables for thousands of years. In about 1,000 BC the author or authors of the Book of Genesis reported a conversation between Eve and the serpent, which allegedly accounts for humans’ ejection from Paradise. As reported in 500 AD by the scribe Horapollo Nilous,1 Egyptian priests from ancient times believed that some baboons had the power of reading and writing, and therefore gave baboons newly arrived in the temple a test of their language abilities. They gave each baboon a quill pen, ink, and a tablet. If the baboon was deemed capable of writing, it was regarded as sacred, fed wine and choice roast meats and not required to work. Other baboons got menial tasks to perform and no special diet. Unlikely as Nilous’s account seems, it is supported by the discovery of mummified baboons, most with rickets that a diet of wine and roast meat might cause! Thus Nilous reported the first test of animal language ability 1,500 years ago, and the test may have been hundreds of years old when he wrote about it.


Sign Language Autistic Child American Sign Language Human Language Human Child 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • William A. Hillix
    • 1
  • Duane M. Rumbaugh
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Psychology and BiologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Iowa Primate Learning SanctuaryDes MoinesUSA

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