Des Moines, Iowa March 1, 2010 You may have more in common with Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota, three language-competent bonobos living at Great Ape Trust, than you thought. And those similarities, right at your fingertip, might one day tell scientists more about the effect of culture on neurological disorders that limit human expression.
Among humans, pointing is a universal language, an alternative to spoken words to convey a message. Before they speak, infants point, a gesture scientists agree is closely associated with word learning. But when an ape points, scientists break rank on the question of whether pointing is a uniquely human behavior. Some of the world's leading voices in modern primatology have argued that although apes may gesture in a way that resembles human pointing, the genetic and cognitive differences between apes and humans are so great that the apes' signals have no specific intent.
Not so, say Great Ape Trust scientists, who argued in a recently published scientific paper, "Why Apes Point: Pointing Gestures in Spontaneous Conversation of Language-Competent Pan/Homo Bonobos," that not only do Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota point with their index fingers in conversation as a human being might, these bonobos do so with specific intent and objectives in mind.
The difference between pointing by the Great Ape Trust bonobos the only ones in the world with receptive competence for spoken English and other captive apes that make hand gestures is explained by the culture in which they were reared, according to the paper's authors: Janni Pedersen, an Iowa State University Ph.D. candidate conducting research for her dissertation at Great Ape Trust; Pr Segerdahl, a scientist from Sweden who has published several philosophical inquires into language; and William M. Fields, an ethnographer investigating language, culture and tools in non-human primates. Fields also is Great Ape Trust's director of scientific research.
|Contact: Al Setka|
Great Ape Trust of Iowa