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Great Ape Trust graduate student's paper sheds light on bonobo language
Date:8/28/2008

Des Moines, Iowa August 27, 2008 What happens when linguistic tools used to analyze human language are applied to a conversation between a language-competent bonobo and a human? The findings, published this month in the Journal of Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, indicate that bonobos may exhibit larger linguistic competency in ordinary conversation than in controlled experimental settings.

The peer-reviewed paper was written by Janni Pedersen, an Iowa State University Ph.D. candidate from Denmark whose interests in the language-competent bonobos at Great Ape Trust of Iowa led her to the United States, and William M. Fields, director of bonobo research at Great Ape Trust.

Their findings run counter to the view among some linguists, including the influential Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who argue that only humans possess and use language. In his hierarchy of language, Chomsky believes that language is part of the genetic makeup of humans and did not descend from a single primitive language evolved from the lower primate order, and it must include formal structures such as grammar and syntax.

Fields said the publication opens an important new chapter in a decades-long debate about the linguistic capabilities of apes. "The resistance to this in the scientific community is enormous," he said. "For the first time, we have a student who is using linguistic tools that have normally been applied to humans now being applied to non-humans. This is a move toward using the kinds of methodology that are appropriate in ape language, based on Savage-Rumbaugh's 1993 monograph, Language Comprehension in Ape and Child."

For her paper, Pedersen analyzed a videotaped conversation between the bonobo Panbanisha and Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, now a scientist with special standing at Great Ape Trust, but a researcher at Georgia State University's Language Res
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Contact: Al Setka
asetka@greatapetrust.org
515-243-3580
Great Ape Trust of Iowa
Source:Eurekalert

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