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CAN NONHUMANS USE LANGUAGE?

i Some linguists say that it is the ability of humans to acquire and use language that differentiates them from all other animals. Yet other animals, too, use symbols to communicate. Bees perform a dance that tells other bees where they found sources of nectar; the grunts and gestures of chimpanzees signify varying desires and emotions. These forms of communication do not

5 necessarily have the grammatical characteristics of language, however. Notwithstandingthese obvious differences, some expertshave devotedmany years of their careers to ongoingstudies of the linguistic capabilities of animals.

Over the last forty years, several researchers have asserted that nonhumans can master language. Chimpanzees and gorillas have been the most popular targets of study because at

10 maturitythey are estimated to have the intelligenceof two- or three-year-old children, who are usually well on their way to learning language. Dolphins, too, have been studied because they have a complexcommunication system and exceptionally large brains relative to their body size. It would seem that if these animals were unable to learn language, their general intelligence could not be blamed. Instead, failure would be attributed to the absence of a genetic makeup that permits language learning.

20

The question of whether nonhuman mammals can learn to use language is not a simple one, for at least two reasons. First, language is more than just communication, but defining just when animals are exhibiting that "something more" is a source of debate.What seems to differentiate human language from the gestures, grunts, chirps, whistles, or cries of other animals is grammar—a formal set of rules for combining words. Also, because of their anatomical structures, nonhuman mammals will never be able to "speak" in the same way that humans do. To test these animals' ability to learn language, investigators, therefore, must devise innovative ways for them to communicate.

David and Ann Premack taught their chimp, Sarah, to communicate by placing differently

5 shaped chips, each symbolizing a word, on a magnetic board (1971). Lana, a chimpanzee studied by Duane Rumbaugh (1977), learned to follow instructionsto communicate by pressing keys on a specially designed computer. American Sign Language (ASL), the hand-gesture language used by deaf people, has been used by Beatrice and Allen Gardner with the chimp Washoe and by Herbert Terrace with Nim Chimsky. And Kanzi, a bonobo (commonly known as a pygmy


Chapter 14 • Linguistics 145

50 chimpanzee) studied by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (1990, 1993), learned to recognize spoken words and to communicate by both gesturing and pressing word-symbol keys on a computer that would "speak" for him.

Studies of these animals suggested that they could spontaneously manipulatecombinations of words to refer to things that were not present. Washoe, Lana, Sarah, Nim, and Kanzi all

35 mastered between 130 and 500 words. Their vocabulary included names for concrete objects such as apple or me; verbs such as tickle and eat; adjectives such as happy and big, and adverbs such as again. The animals incorporatedthe words into sentences, expressing wishes such as "You tickle me" or "If Sarah good, then apple." Sometimes the sentences referred to things in the past. Finally, all these animals seemed to enjoy their communication devicesand used them



4o spontaneously to interact and form mutual bondswith their caretakers.

Many of the preliminary conclusionsabout primate language learning were challenged by Herbert Terrace and his colleaguesin their investigation of Nim. Terrace noticed many subtle characteristics of Nim's communications that seemed incompatiblewith a child's use of language, and he argued that animals in other studies demonstrated these same characteristics.

45 First, Terrace said, the formatof their sentences was always relatively simple and brief.Nim

could use isolatedgestures or could combine two or three gestures, but the chimp never used strings of words or clausesthat conveyed more sophisticated or abstractmessages. Second, Terrace citedthe animals' lack of spontaneity, creativity, and expanding complexity and adaptation,which are characteristic of children's language. Many of the animals' sentences were

50 requests for food, tickling, baths, pets, and other pleasurable objects and experiences. Other researchers pointed out that chimps do not inherentlyassociate seen objects with heard words, as human infants do. Finally, Terrace questioned whether experimenter bias influenced the reports of the chimps' communications. Consciously or not, experimenters who conclude that chimps learn language might tend to ignore strings that violategrammatical order or to

55 reinterpret ambiguousstrings so that they make grammatical sense. For example, if Nim sees someone holding a banana and signs, "Nim banana," the experimenter might assume the word order is correct and means "Nim wants the banana" rather than "That banana belongs to Nim," in which case the word order would be inaccurate.

Linguists and psychologists are still not unifiedabout whether our sophisticated mammalian

6o cousins can learn language. Studies are expensive and take many years. Accordingly, the amount of evidence in the area is minimal—just a handful of studies, each based on a few animals. Nevertheless,two things are clear. First, whatever the chimp, gorilla, and dolphin have learned is a much more primitive and limited form of communication than that learned by children. Second, their level of communication does not do justice to their overall intelligence; these

65 animals are smarter than their "language" production suggests. In summary,it is possible to infer from the evidence up until now that humans have language abilities that are unique,but mat under the right circumstances, and with the right tools, other animals can master many ^nguage-like skills.

-_i=r>ted from Douglas A. Bernstein, Louis A. Penner, Alison Clarke-Stewart, and Edward J. Roy, Psychology, 6th ed. (Boston: iBughton Mifflin, 2003), 301-3.



Essential Academic Vocabulary


1. Vocabulary in Context


Find Para£ Para£ Para^ Paras

the boldface words in each paragraph that correspond to the following meanings.

;raph 1 a.____________ continuing

b. despite

;raph 2 c. complicated

d. adulthood

;raph 5 e. a close relationship

f. tools

jraph 6 g. _ coworkers

h. _ initial

i. dissimilar because of basic differences

Paragraph 7 j. act against a principle

k. naturally

I. short

m. _ not concrete

n. _ having more than one meaning

o. the process of changing

p. mentioned as proof

Paragraph 8 q. exceptional, special

r. very small

s. nonetheless

t. _ deduce

2. Reading Comprehension

3 Getting the Facts

1. Put a check mark (*/") next to each species of animal mentioned in the text.

a. gorilla e. ____ dolphin

b. orangutan f. ____ bee

c. dog g. ____ chimpanzee

d. bonobo h. ____ whale


Chapter 14 • Linguistics 147

2. Paragraph 4 describes various studies that test the ability of primates to communicate. Complete the chart to show research information about these primate language studies.

 

Researchers/ Trainers Species Name Method of ^ Communication
    Sarah  
  pygmy chimpanzee    
Duane Rumbaugh      
      American Sign Language
    Nim Chimsky  

3. Indicate whether the following statements about the information reported in paragraph 5
are true (T) or false (F).

a. ____ The primates could not talk about past events.

b. ____ The vocabulary of the animals focused on concrete objects.

c. ____ The subjects mastered a maximum of 500 words.

d. ____ The primates seemed to be able to communicate about things that were not

present.

e. ____ The animals' vocabulary included verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

f. ____ The primates could not express wishes.

g. ____ The caretakers and their subjects formed close relationships.

h. ____ Some of the animals did not enjoy the language training sessions.

4. Herbert Terrace and his colleagues concluded that Nims communications were unlike those
of a child. Identify the dissimilar characteristics that they observed, (paragraph 7)



Essential Academic Vocabulary


J Making Inferences

1. In your own words, what can you conclude from the evidence presented about the linguistic capabilities of primates?

2. Why are primates the primary focus of linguists and

anthropologists who are researching animal communication?


3. Why might some people be against these types of linguistic experiments with animals?


Keep track of your progress in learn­ing and using new words through self-evaluation and testing.


 


3. Dictionary Skills

Study the dictionary entries for abstract and below are true (T) or false (F).


hstraction. Then decide whether the sentences


abstract(ab strakt'orab'strakt') adj. 1. Thought of apart from any particular object or thing. For example, goodness is an abstract word and softness is an abstract quality. 2. Difficult to under­stand: Your complicated explanation is too abstract for me. 3. In art, concerned with designs or shapes that do not realistically represent any person or thing: an abstract painting full of strange shapes, -n. (ab'strakt'). A brief summary of the main points of a written or spoken text: an abstract of the President's speech, -tr.v. (ab strakt')- l.Totake away or remove (sthg.). 2. [from] To think of (a quality, for example) apart from any particular instance or thing: abstract a law of nature from a laboratory experiment. 3. To make a summary of (sthg.): It was not easy to abstract his article. ♦ in the abstract. In theory but not necessarily in reality: In the abstract, fishing is relaxing, but we found it to be hardivork. -abstract'ly adv. -ab*stract'ness n. [U] ab*strac*tion(ab strak'shan) n. 1.[C] An idea or quality thought of apart from any partic­ular instance or thing: Abstractions are hard to understand. 2. [U] Absent-mindedness: In his abstraction, he didn't say hello.


\.

2. 3.

4. 5.

6. 7, 8. 9,


Abstract artists paint pictures of people who look real.

The word abstract may be a verb, a noun, or an adjective.

A person who displays abstraction probably has something on his or her mind.

Academic journal articles are usually preceded by an abstract.

The word table is an example of an abstract noun.

The verb abstract can be followed by a direct object.

An abstract idea is more specific than a concrete plan.

The word abstraction has four syllables.

The suffix of abstraction shows that the word is a verb.


 


10.


Kindness is an abstract quality.


Chapter 14 • Linguistics



4. Word Forms

Chart Completion

Complete the following chart with the different forms of each word. Note that some words do not have all forms.


Noun


Adjective


Adverb


 


abstract,

abstraction


abstract


abstract


abstracted}\a


 

    isolated X
adaptation     X
X X   inherently
  violate violated X
  X accurate  
    brief  
  cite cited X
conclusion      
  X ambiguous  

Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1200


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