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Signs of Intelligent Life

Humans, especially children, have an amazing capability to learn language. Within the first year of life, children will have learned many of the necessary concepts…

Humans, especially children, have an amazing capability to learn language. Within the first year of life, children will have learned many of the necessary concepts to have functional language, although it will still take years to develop fully. But are humans unique in their ability to acquire language? As you know, as a graduate student I was chosen to work with Dr. Roger Fouts at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI), a sanctuary for chimpanzees used in ape language research and home to world renowned Washoe, the first nonhuman to acquire a human language. Four of the chimpanzees, Washoe, Moja, Tatu and Dar were immersed in American Sign Language (ASL), and they learned to communicate by using signs in their daily interactions. Loulis, Washoe’s adopted son was not cross-fostered. He acquired his signs from Washoe and the three other chimpanzees. He was the first non-human to learn a human language from other non-humans. Thus, Loulis observed the other chimpanzees using the signs of ASL around him, like CHASE and TICKLE during play interactions. Washoe would even mold his hand into signs like MORE for new food. By observing and researching how Washoe and her family learn and use the signs of ASL, we have gained a better understanding of the patterns of language development that bridge species barriers. In addition to our use of language, we have also seen that our emotions and social bonds are very similar to chimpanzees. Read the attached excerpt from “Next of Kin” by Dr. Roger Fouts & Stephen Tukel Mills and answer the following questions:
1.  What was Washoe doing in the tree that day that “left Harre shaken”?
2.  What did Washoe do that deaf human children also do?  (Give five examples)
3.  What were some behaviors Washoe exhibited that proved she hadn’t been trained?  (Give four examples)
4.  Explain how a language study like this can change a person’s view of the world.

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