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Essay on Chimpanzees' Ability to Use Language in a Rudimentary Way

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Chimpanzees' Ability to Use Language in a Rudimentary Way

Many researchers wonder if chimpanzees are really able to use language in a rudimentary way, or if it is just created by operant conditioning. Psychologists realized, as far back as 60 years ago, that chimps would never be able to learn spoken language. They do not have the specialized tongue, lips, teeth, facial muscles, and palate that humans do to make the vast array of speech sounds that humans do. Researchers have instead tried to teach chimps some visual form of language. An example is Beatrice and Allen Gardner's experiment with American Sign Language (ASL). They started their research with a one-year-old chimp named Washoe, whom they raised like a child. The
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Sarah learned to make simple sentences by arranging the symbols on a board. This system is easier for a chimp than ASL is. Because the symbols were right in front of her, she could use them as cues to remember the meanings. One disadvantage was that Sarah became mute when she didn't have her symbols. In another research project, Duane Rumbaugh taught a chimp named Lana to use a special typewriter linked to a computer. It had fifty keys, each showing a geometric configuration that represented a word. When Lana typed a configuration, it showed up on the screen in front of her. She learned to correct herself by checking the sequence of configurations as they appeared. Lana learned to respond to humans who "talked" through the computer and she initiated conversations. When Lana came across an object that she hadn't been taught a word for yet, she sometimes made up her own. Some researchers have argued that language-trained chimps use symbols and signs meaningfully and accurately. They are able to refer to things that have been removed, like ball they previously saw but that is now put away in a box. Also, like Lana, there is evidence that chimps can make up new appropriate word combinations using simple grammar rules. This suggests that chimps may have at least some understanding for elementary syntax. Not all researchers agree with the above view. Psychologist Herbert Terrace
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