American History / Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

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Autor:  anton  13 March 2011
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Although “speech is commonly recognized as the dividing line between humans and the rest of the animal world” (Amy Stafford, Chimpanzee Communication), studies have shown that chimps and other primates partially share that capability too. “Human language is used for expression of thought, for establishing social relationships, for communication of information and for clarifying ideas.” (Noam Chomsky) “So by studying the communication abilities and development of language in chimps and other great apes, we can learn more about ourselves and our own language capabilities.” (Amy Stafford, Chimpanzee communication) Chimps are able to deliberately communicate with others, and their comprehension “behind the exchanges is a level of understanding unseen elsewhere in the animal world.” (Amy Stafford, Chimpanzee Communication)

Chimps have been taught up to a vocabulary of 200 words using ASL, or American Sign Language. Studies have also shown that chimps have responded appropriately to about 70% of what has been learned.

“More than a century ago, Darwin and Huxley proved that humans share recent common ancestors with the African great apes. Modern molecular studies have spectacularly confirmed this prediction and have refined the relationships, showing that the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and bonobo (Pan paniscus or pygmy chimpanzee) are our closest living evolutionary relatives.” (Initial sequence of the chimpanzee genome and comparison with the human genome) “

And because these human language abilities must have evolved from abilities present in our primate ancestors, many researchers have believed that it might be possible for primates to learn human language.” (www.thebrain.mcgill.ca)

Out of the approximate 3 billion base units of DNA in chimp’s and human’s genomes, there is merely a 1.16 %, difference. This displays “vast similarities, though key differences as well.” (Paul Thompson, Seattle post-intelligencer reporter) “Also, 5 million additions to or subtractions from the genome involving chunks of DNA sequence have been found.” (seattlepi.nwsource.com) Robert Waterson, director of genome sciences at the University of Washington and lead author of a report in an edition of the journal Nature, believes the knowledge of these mutations will help us to identify and trace evolutionary events.

The questions of why such dramatic differences in physical capabilities and the learning capacity of humans verse primates are common, crucial, and remain only partially answered with conflict prominent.

One gene, FOXP2, may be the deciding factor for how humans can speak and primates are “genetically at a lose for words.” (seattlepi.nwsource.com). A study, conducted by Waterson, of a family with a genetically transmitted and severe speech impediment concluded in the finding of a mutated FOXP2 gene. When this mutation of the family was compared to the genes of a primate, the results showed identical genetic sequences, thus proving FOXP2 importance.

FOXP2 “took hold in humans some 150,000 years ago” (seattlepi.nwsource.com) "That gene went through a selective sweep," (Evan Eichler.) This would put to rest the speculation of why some primates didn’t evolve while others did. In other words, the humans who received the “chatty” form of the gene FOXP2 reproduced and evolved so much faster then the other portion of the population, who were “left in the dust by evolution.”

Now, the human vocal cords are capable of producing hundreds of various sounds. However, chimp’s vocal cords are only physically able to perform 12 different sounds. This is why lexigrams and American Sign Language have been used as another way of communication. There has been numerous attempts to try and teach chimpanzees language, however, many have both failed and succeeded in varying degrees due to many different reasons.

The first Chimp language experiment ever conducted took place in the 1930's by W.N. and L.A. This experiment was conducted with the intention of determining how much of human language is derived from heredity and how much is derived from education. However there were many overlooked variables and is only worth mentioning because it was the first of its kind.

“Allen and Beatrice Gardner in the 1960s and was the first to use American Sign Language in primate communication. They felt that sociability was a prime factor in the acquisition of language in human beings, so they choose to use a chimpanzee. The training of Washoe, the chimp used in the experiment, began when she was 11 months old and lasted 51 months. During this time she acquired 151 signs. It was the Gardners' observation that chimps and humans are very similar in many aspects such as blood chemistry, sensory system, as well as a prolonged dependency of child on mother. The idea was to immerse Washoe in the world of the deaf and ASL and to carry on spontaneous conversations between her and her trainers. Perhaps the most significant finding of the Gardners was that it appeared as though Washoe produced her own combinations of words such as "dirty Roger" where dirty is used as an expletive and "water bird" upon seeing a swan on a lake. The Gardners argue that it was highly unlikely that Washoe would be able to combine the right words, in the right context, unless she understood at least some of the rules of human language” (www.geocities.com)

This set the pace for many more experiments, such as those conducted by Sarah and David Premack, and Herb Terrace. It also created a great amount of interest in Chimpanzee communication possibilities. The study showed that chimps were able to obtain a certain amount of language. It was also a new idea that peaked peoples interest on the subject. Now further research has been and is being done on the physical and physiological elements of chimpanzee communication.

A major figure in primate studies and specifically chimpanzees is Jane Goodall. In fact, she may be one of the most famous and renounded names in Primate Studies. However, she has focused on the behavioral and social aspect much more then the scientific and communication side. So although Goodall has contributed greatly to primate research the work she’s done is irrelevant to chimpanzee communication.

“Chimps make use of simple gestures, waving their hand in the direction they want another chimp to look or holding out a begging hand for support then relying on the intelligence of the other animal to sum up the situation and react” (McCrone 149). When a chimpanzee makes a call or hoot, they do it to express feelings and emotions. These actions are instinctive, as they are genetically programmed inside the chimps and they never have to learn when or how to use them in order to express their emotions.

So although tons more research and insight into this topic is ahead, what scientists have learned once again offers a chance for humans to learn more about themselves and more about the physiological aspect behind language. The possibilities of humans communicating with another species are things that can’t be ignored. In addition, the study of the human/chimp comparison may very well lead to the discovery of how humans really began and the process of evolution that got us here. Finally, not only will communicating with chimpanzees be a major break-through, it would surely lead to countless other discoveries.

"Can Chimpanzees Talk?" Aplpha Dictionary. 2006. Lexiteria LLC. .

"Chimpanzee Enrichment." Friends of Washoe. Friends of Washoe, E. University. 7 Jan. 2006 .

"Communication." The Jane Goodall Institute. 4 Dec. 2006 .

Fouts, Dr. Roger S. and Deborah H. Project Washoe FAQ. WWW, Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute: Central Washington University, 1996.

"Insight Into the Orgin of Language." Chimpanzee Communication. 28 Jan. 2007 .

"Learn About Chimpanzees." Friends of Washoe. Friends of Washoe, E. University. 15 Jan. 2007 .

Lonsdorf, Elizabeth V. "FiFi's Bibliography." Discover Chimpanzees. 20 Dec. 2006 .

McCrone, John. The Ape That Spoke; Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind. New York: Avon Books, 1991.

Paulson, Tom. "Chimp, Human DNA Comparison Finds Vast Similarities, Key Differences." Seattle Pi. 1 Sept. 2005. 20 Jan. 2007 .



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