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Bridging the Gap

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  1. Introduction
  2. The split between the species of common chimpanzee and the bonobos
  3. The research done by Eduard Trantz and Heinz Heck
  4. Foundation: Chimp studies
    1. Allen and Beatrix Gardner: First to approach the primate language
    2. The attempt to eliminate interpretation errors
    3. Nim Chimpsky's project
  5. The design of the research
  6. Gorilla sign language: A different approach
  7. The case of Chantek
  8. Conclusion
  9. Works cited

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. [...]

[...] Currently, the Chantek Foundation seeks to bring awareness to the fact that most apes are not held in ideal environments in captivity. Dr. Miles claims that Chantek expressed many feelings of depression and boredom before he was transferred to a newly designed facility at Zoo Atlanta, where he still resides today. Today, he still uses an active vocabulary of over 150 signs, and talks with Dr. Miles when she continues to visit, primarily describing his interest in the zoo's craft and music program that was designed to meet his unique needs. [...]

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