Talking Monkeys

[From Rupert Young (971001.1000)]

Here's an interesting example of controlling perceptions that was on the
COGSCI list regarding a discussion about the signing abilities of the primates
from the Gorilla Foundation.

Roberta Davies <Roberta.Davies@BRITCOUN.ORG>

The gorillas were taught "modified" American sign language,
modified for the anatomy of the gorilla hand.

(Chris Palmer)

Actually, a native signer of ASL disagrees with you:


...the apes did *not* 'learn American Sign Language.' This preposterous
claim is based on the myth that ASL is a crude system of pantomimes and
gestures rather than a full language with complex phonology, morphology
and syntax. In fact the apes had not learned *any* true ASL signs. The
one deaf native signer on the Washoe team later made these candid remarks:

        "Every time the chimp made a sign, we were supposed to write it
down in the log...They were always complaining because my log didn't show
enough signs. All the hearing people turned in logs with long lists of
signs. They always saw more signs than I did...I watched really
        "The chimp's hands were moving constantly. Maybe I missed
something, but I don't think so. I just wasn't seeing any signs. The
hearing people were logging every movement the chimp made as a sign.
Every time the chimp put his finger in his mouth, they'd say, "Oh, he's
making the sign for *drink*, and they'd give him some milk...When the
chimp scratched itself, they'd record it as the sign for *scratch*...When
[the chimps] want something, they reach. Sometimes [the trainers] would
say, "Oh, amazing, look at that, it's exactly like the ASL sign for
*give*!" It wasn't."

p. 337 _The Language Instinct_ Steven Pinker HarperCollins Publishers,


I guess the input functions for the hearing people were a bit loose.