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

ng made possible through the use of lexigrams symbols.

"She was using language to get at what she wanted," Pedersen said. "She is very, very clever and is fully capable of following the conversation the same way a human does. This tells me that Panbanisha's knowledge of language is far beyond understanding the words, to understanding how to use them in a conversation to get what she wants."

"One of the things Janni has affirmed, and affirmed in a way the lay person can understand, is the aspect of turn-taking. If there is anything universal in human language, it's turn of talk," Fields said. "The fact that Panbanisha has done this, and it's accessible even to an untrained reviewer, I think is an important aspect of her paper. She has looked at the whole social action, and the meaning. Ideational flow going back and forth is obvious.

"Originally, repetition was thought of something that happens normally in human language," he said. "Traditionally, repetition in ape communicative behaviors is assumed to be proof that they don't have language. It's a kind of dichotomy or unfairness."

Fields said Pedersen, who has a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and is working toward a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology in ISU's Anthropology Department, "has been able to do something unique" that Chomsky, long regarded as the father of contemporary linguistics, was unable to do.

Pedersen expects to complete her dissertation in ape language research, the second to focus on data collected with the world-famous bonobos at Great Ape Trust. The first was Pictorial Primates A Search for Iconic Abilities in Great Apes, by cognitive scientist Tomas Persson from Sweden's Lund University. He argued that the bonobos at Great Ape Trust readily grasped the meaning of abstract symbols, such as those found on the lexigrams board, and, like humans, are able to interpret.

"The importance of Janni's Ph.D.
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Contact: Al Setka
asetka@greatapetrust.org
515-243-3580
Great Ape Trust of Iowa
Source:Eurekalert

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