Apes may be closer to speaking than many scientists think
In 2010, Marcus Perlman started research work at The Gorilla Foundation, where Koko has spent more than 40 years living immersed with humans — interacting for many hours each day with psychologist Penny Patterson and biologist Ron Cohn.
“She doesn’t produce a pretty, periodic sound when she performs these behaviors, like we do when we speak,” Perlman says. “But she can control her larynx enough to produce a controlled grunting sound.”
In other words, Koko does not speak.
“Decades ago, in the 1930s and ’40s, a couple of husband-and-wife teams of psychologists tried to raise chimpanzees as much as possible like human children and teach them to speak. Their efforts were deemed a total failure,” Perlman says. “Since then, there is an idea that apes are not able to voluntarily control their vocalizations or even their breathing.”
Whoever thought that was pretty dense.
These limits fit a theory on the evolution of language, that the human ability to speak is entirely unique among the nonhuman primate species still around today.
“This idea says there’s nothing that apes can do that is remotely similar to speech,” Perlman says. “And, therefore, speech essentially evolved — completely new — along the human line since our last common ancestor with chimpanzees.” More.
Notice the way Perlman words his argument: The accepted thesis is allegedly that “there’s nothing that apes can do that is remotely similar to speech.”
One would not say that of dogs or cats, let alone apes. But the fact is that there is no evidence from the article that Koko is progressing toward any type of speech, principally because she has nothing in particular to say.
The human ability to speak is in fact unique, despite Perlman’s unsuccessful cavilling.
But the really interesting question is, why would anyone feel the need to doubt that or come forward with such weak evidence?
In the middle ages, it was implausible miracle stories but today, it is implausible ape achievement stories. That signifies a difference in interests but no reduction in gullibility.
Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness
Matching Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” the “Tree of Intelligence” comes crashing down”
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