The Great Ape Language

By Patricia Pascual
• What Chomsky said (Rumbaugh)
• Language is in the genetic makeup of human beings
• Only humans have and use language
• Why Great Apes?
• Share 99% of genetic material with YOU… and me. (Jannedy)
• Smart, social, easier to live with than an elephant
• Gua: 1930s Experiment
• Goal: to see if a chimp can learn
language merely by exposure
• No formal education
• How: Gua was “adopted” by a human
• Successful? NO
• Viki: 1950s Experiment
• Goal: To prove a chimp could learn language if raised properly
• How: Live with humans and undergo training
• Successful? NO
• Koko: 1970s Experiment
• Goal: To prove non-human primates have human language capability
• How: Vocal anatomy of gorillas showed they physically lack capability to
speak, so Koko was taught ASL
• Successful? YES!
• Project Nim: Nim Chimpsky
• Goal: To see if a chimp could use ASL to communicate and disprove Noam
Chomsky’s claim
• How: Immerse Nim in an environment where he would use ASL
• Successful? NO
• Then what’s so special about Nim?
• His communicative language skills did not develop entirely, but his social
skills did
• Language Analogue Project
• Goal: To show language ability of chimps
specifically with lexigrams
• Lexigrams- symbols that correspond
with objects or ideas (Jannedy)
• Research project used Lana, female
chimp, for studies
• How: Trained Lana to communicate in
Yerkish, a language designed for primates
which includes a keyboard with lexigrams
(Great ape)
• Successful? YES!
• The Future
• Researchers have moved on from trying to teach chimps to learn human
language to studying how they communicate on their own (Adler)
• Issues and Concerns
• Is this ethical?
• Are they really learning?
• What does this mean for humans?
• Further thinking
• Why were Viki’s and Nim’s results considered unsuccessful?
• Language is more than just a way of transferring information
• Was Chomsky right?
• Great Ape Trust of Iowa. Bonobos May Have Greater Linguistic Skills Than Previously
ScienceDaily, 2 Sep. 2008. 6 April
• Adler, Margot. The Chimp That Learned Sign Language. Day to Day from National
Radio, 28 May 2008. 7 April 2011.
• Rumbaugh, Duane. Use of Human Language by Captive Great Apes. Great Ape Trust, 2005. 6
April 2011. <>.
• Jannedy, Stefanie. Animal Communication. The Linguistics Department of Ohio State
University, 1994. 7 April 2011.
• Great Ape Language. ScienceDaily. 6 April 2011.
• Great ape Language. Wikipedia. 2 March 2011. 6 April 2011.