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Linguist: Koko the gorilla’s language skills were largely media-friendly myth

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From Geoffrey Pullum at Chronicle of Higher Education:

Plenty of linguists have expertise in the analysis of sign languages, and none of them have ever independently confirmed Koko’s incipient linguistic competence. Koko never said anything: never made a definite truth claim, or expressed a specific opinion, or asked a clearly identifiable question. Producing occasional context-related signs, almost always in response to Patterson’s cues, after years of intensive reward-based training, is not language use. Not even if it involves gestures that a genuine signer could employ in language use.

Neither journalists nor laypeople will ever be convinced of that. Such is their yearning to believe that Koko had mastered language, and had things to say, and shared those things with Penny Patterson. They want to believe these things, and they will not be denied.More.

Indeed. These myths about animals who are just like people are classic stories. Like “ghosts seeks vengeance” stories, they just gotta be true. They confirm a naturalist worldview that humans are just animals.

She sounds like a fine animal companion. Too bad they couldn’t just leave it at that.

See also: Why some birds are smarter than others?: They have larger brain structures that mediate information Actually, the researchers did not find similarities in the brains of birds and primates, as suggested in the release. They found quite different brain structures that mediate the same tasks. The convergence is of intelligence alone. Usually, “convergent evolution” refers to convergence of structures, not just of goals. They’ll need a lot of luck to come up with much insight into human intelligence, as they hope, because what they have found here is simply one reason that some birds are as capable of tasks requiring intelligence as some primates are. Neither is anything like a human.

Do crows’ vending machine skills “redefine intelligence”?

Evolution appears to converge on goals—but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds


Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?

Patterson et al, “Pragmatic analysis of gorilla utterances: Early communicative development in the gorilla Koko”, Journal of PragmaticsVolume 12, Issue 1, February 1988, Pages 35-54 Note: Pragmatics is a branch of linguistics Quaesitor

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