Kanzi, the talking bonobo.

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Something that really caught my attention in Chapter 8 was the ability of certain animals to understand and even communicate through the use of the English language. According to the text, bonobos, which were once thought to be a class of chimpanzee, are now recognized as a species that is genetically even more closely related to humans. Unlike chimpanzees, which require thousands of trials to learn the meanings of associate signs or lexigrams, bonobos tend to learn through observation, which is a more human-like trait than the direct reinforcement used to teach chimpanzees. However, along with chimpanzees, bonobos seem to get stuck when learning syntax, which is defined as the set of rules by which we construct sentences.
Even with these limitations, it has been proven that bonobos can understand English, communicate with English-speakers through the use of lexigrams, and even construct 2-word sentences, as demonstrated by the following video clip. In the clip, we can see how one bonobo by the name of Kanzi can communicate with not only the doctor whom he interacts with on a daily basis, but also the reporter whom he has never met in his life. Something that I found especially fascinating in the clip was the fact that Kanzi could express words that could not be found on his lexigram through the use of other words, such as "big water" for flood and "slow lettuce" for kale, which Kanzi had a hard time chewing.



1 Comment

I think it is very interesting that scientists have been able to teach other species to use our language, at least to a certain extent, but at the same time I have trouble discerning a real-world application for these studies. Once we realized that the bonobos would be unable to communicate with us on a higher level, it seems that further attempts would simply be a futile waste of research spending. I generally feel that research should be focused on knowledge that has the potential to advance the human race, but maybe that's a narrow-minded view I should consider abandoning, who knows.

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This page contains a single entry by kiell002 published on March 5, 2012 2:10 PM.

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