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A decade and a half after the claims of animal language researchers were discredited as exaggerated self-delusions, Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh is reporting that her chimpanzees can demonstrate the rudimentary comprehension skills of 2 1/2-year-old children. According to a series of recent papers, the Bonobo, or pygmy, chimps, which some scientists believe are more humanlike and intelligent than the common chimpanzees studied in the earlier, flawed experiments, have learned to understand complex sentences and use symbolic language to communicate spontaneously with the outside world."She had never put those three lexigrams together," Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh said, referring to the keyboard symbols with which the animals are trained. She found the incident, which occurred last month, particularly gratifying because the chimp seemed to be using the symbols not to demand food, which is usually the case in these experiments, but to gossip.
Teaching a six-year old how to read and write is not an easy task. And teaching two six-year old chimpanzees how to read English is certainly a big challenge! But Sally Boysen won't give up on the idea. She hopes Keeli and Ivy will be able to communicate in simple sentences in three more years. Keeli and Ivy are the stars of the Discovery Channel documentary "Keeli and Ivy: Chimps like us". These two six-year old primates from the Ohio State University Chimpanzee Center are already on their way to becoming straight-A students.Keeli and Ivy have a lot to teach us about how language is acquired and used. This topic has been in the spotlight for more than 20 years, as the scientific world still debates the controversial results about what apes can learn and can not. But what it is indisputable is that the protagonists of these studies are some really "smart chimps". Meet these celebrities of the "chimpanzee hall of fame".WashoeWashoe, as with a lot of females, loves looking at shoe catalogs. She also enjoys coffee and tea parties, and is known for her great sense of humour. She was named after Washoe County, Nevada, the place where she spent her early childhood. Born in the wild in West Africa, Washoe was adopted when she was less than a year old on June 21, 1966 (day that was considered her birthday) by Drs. Beatrice T. and R. Allen Gardner. She lived in her own furnished trailer in the Gardners backyard where she also had lots of toys. The Gardner's tried to raise Washoe as a human baby and teach her American Sign Language. In three years, she had learnt about 100 signs and was able to create her own combinations. Washoe moved with Roger and Deborah Fouts to the University of Oklahoma in 1970 and then to Central Washington University, in 1980 where she continues working on another projects.LanaIn 1973, Lana started learning something that had nothing to do with English, French, Russian or any other language you can think of. She was trained to learn her own custom-made language called Yerkish. In Yerkish (that comes from the name of the lab where she was working at, the Yerkes Institute for Primate Studies) the words are composed of nine arbitrary elements Lana could combine using a computer keyboard. Obviously, this wasn't a regular desktop PC (just imagine the size of any computer in the 70s!), but a special system that would let Lana have 24 hour access to her requests; from drinks and food, to movies and a window view. Lana really enjoyed her 24 hours room service, or in this case...cage service, and she often remembered to say "please". Lana is currently in Atlanta, at the Learning Research Center of Georgia University and keeps working on her math capacity, word recalling, spatial planning and solving puzzles.Nim ChimpskyRight. He was Nim Chimspky, not Noam Chomsky (the American linguistic who rejected the possibility of chimpanzees producing human-like language). Nim was born at the Institute for Primate Studies at the University of Oklahoma in November 1973 to Pam and Carolyn. Nim, like Washoe, was exposed to sign language when he was only two weeks old, but the real training didn't get started until he was nine months old. The researchers, T.H. Terrace and colleagues, tried to raise Nim as they would raise a human baby. He would sign "dirty" to go to the toilet, and "sleep", to let people know when he was bored. Nim had to "study hard" in a special room for five hours every weekday. By the age of three he knew 125 signs. His favorite ones were "drink", "gum", "banana" and "more". Nim died on March 10, 2000.Sherman & AustinSherman (Lana's half brother) was born in May 10, 1973. Austin was born in July 10, 1974. Sherman and Austin worked together since 1975. The project was based on something similar to Lana's keyboard. These two "friends" surprised their researchers showing signs of cooperation, friendship, attention and sensitivity. They even learned to share food (pretty good for standard chimp manners). Sherman is also living with Lana at the Language Research Center and continues "going to school". Austin died of heart arrhythmia in January, 1996 at age 21.KanziKanzi means 'treasure' in Swahili...and he's really a treasure. He was the first nonhuman primate to learn language the way children do - in a language-rich environment. He was born at the Yerkes Center, in Atlanta, in October of 1980 to Lorel (mother) and Bosondjo, but was soon adopted by another chimp, Matata. No one taught Kanzi how to name things or announce his intentions. He learned all by himself, just by watching his mom's training. Kanzi started spontaneously using the keyboard at the age of two. The first "official" day of training he just surprised everybody. Kanzi is the first chimp to demonstrate understanding spoken English, equivalent to the comprehension of a 2-½ year old child. Kanzi loves "conversing" about travelling, finding food and playing. Today he understands about 500 words.KokoKoko (1971) is not another "genius chimp," because she is actually a gorilla....a bilingual gorilla. She grew up learning both American Sign Language and spoken English. Koko is special since it is very rare to see gorillas involved in language studies, but also her unique personality has gained people's attention (not many gorillas lie about eating their crayons or call their caretakers "you dirty bad toilet"). Intelligence tests show that Koko has an IQ of 70-95.In humans 100 is considered "normal".