Wondering how similar animals are to ourselves is not a recent question to philosophy or research science. Pet owners are all aware of the mystery behind how it seems like a beloved cat or dog just "knows" when the day has been horrible. More recent research has taken this philosophical question to a different level by examining the cognitive abilities of a number of animals, and what drives some of their more intelligent behaviors. How animals communicate with one another, or how they seem to communicate with us in domestic situations, has been a hot topic for several decades. At the heart of this is studying animal language acquisition. Researchers have been trying to determine if any animal, particularly the great apes, are capable of understanding and using a human language system. Many studies have been undertaken to assess the language skills of common chimpanzees, the bonobo chimps, and several different skills of the gorillas.
[...] had to break the first commandment of the behavioral sciences: Though shalt not love thy research subject” (Fouts). Initially, Washoe was to be taught ASL signs through basic operant conditioning. Whenever Washoe would spontaneously make a sign, she would be positively reinforced with praise, tickling, or other forms of attention. The spontaneous sign would receive more praise as it approached the form of a true ASL sign, with the researchers gradually leading Washoe to make the correct sign on her own. [...]
[...] Previous studies had focused on teaching vocalized language, but these had failed due to the fact that chimps are not physically able to produce the same speech sounds as humans due to anatomical differences. The Gardners believed that ASL would be key to bridging language between chimps and humans, and so Washoe was introduced to their study. Young psychologist Roger Fouts was also brought on board for the duration of the project. In his book Next of Kin: Conversations with Chimpanzees, Fouts described what would be one of the major points of criticism in the project design. [...]
[...] In response to concerns over the actual procedures that led to Washoe's ASL acquisition, a new chimp, Nim Chimpsky, was reared in at attempt to duplicate the results of Project Washoe with more strict experimental techniques. The study failed to produce impressive results, and none of the researchers deemed Nim's use of 125 signs worthy of the language title (Whitney 19). Herbert Terrace was at the head of Nim Chimpsky's project, held at Columbia University. While Nim (who was named such as a nod to Noam Chomsky, a famous critic) would also acquire an impressive vocabulary of signs, Terrace was disappointed to find that he did not develop anything resembling the sentence understanding of a human baby. [...]
[...] The two did not end up being mates, instead developing a sibling relationship. Despite this, Dr. Patterson kept Michael as a companion for Koko and introduced him to GSL studies even though he was already three years old. With help from Koko, Michael was able to master 600 signs, many of which were taken from Koko directly. They shared the unique signs for flower and for girl. Michael had come from a rescue program that saved orphaned gorillas in the wild. [...]
[...] The chimp that adopted Kanzi was part of a lexigram study, and Kanzi would accompany the mother to sessions while he was an infant. To the shock of many observers, Kanzi began to competently use the lexigram system without any guided instruction, where his mother had failed to learn anything at all. The portable keyboard used in the study had various symbols that represented different conceptsin an organized manner. They could be pressed in any particular order, and it was Savage-Rumbaugh's hope that Kanzi would later demonstrate sentence order on his own if he truly understood the words that each lexigram represented. [...]
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