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Ape language pioneer Savage-Rumbaugh receives honorary Ph.D. from alma mater

o graduates of her alma mater, Savage-Rumbaugh said that when she received her bachelors degree from MSU 38 years ago, she entered a field the study of whether great apes can acquire language that didnt exist until 1979 and has become mired in debate and has yet to make its full impact felt. The inquiry matters for many reasons, Savage-Rumbaugh said, and importantly, has forced humans to contemplate the true meaning of language.

"Was it just words and grammar, or fundamentally something much deeper"" she said. "Did we require the capacity to reason in order to have language" Or in acquiring language from our culture, did we also acquire the capacity to reason, to think and finally to assume moral responsibility for all of our actions" Did language enable us to become cultural beings, or was it culture itself that enabled us to acquire language"" Great Ape Trust of Iowa

Ape language studies also have exposed what may be flaws in the distinction between humans and animals, she said. The natural world is divided into four categories man, animal, vegetable and mineral but the more scientists learn about and understand great apes, "the more we find our old categories falling into ruin."

"We now know that we share with some apes nearly 99 percent of our DNA," she said. "We are, in fact, really a genera of five great apes, related in the following order from most distant to nearest: orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and human being. Even more puzzling to us is this fact: Chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to us than they are to the other great apes, the gorilla and the orangutan.

"Thus, if genes matter and they do then how do we justify the categories man and animal when there are two species of animals living on the planet that are more like us than they are like any other living animal"" she said. "Such scientific findings have thrown our old simplistic categories into a state of confusion. The field of ape la

Contact: Al Setka
Great Ape Trust of Iowa

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Ape language pioneer Savage-Rumbaugh receives honorary Ph.D. from alma mater
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