Ape Speech Research Has Been Term Paper

  • Length: 18 pages
  • Sources: 15
  • Subject: Communication - Language
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #66875718

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Another theorist with a different view is Chomsky (1988). Chomsky sees the acquisition of language as a process of input-output, what he calls a Cartesian view of language acquisition and language structure. He states: "We have an organism of which we know nothing. We know, or we can discover, what kind of data is available to it, and the first question we must try to answer is: what kind of mental structure does the organism develop when that evidence is presented to it?" (Chomsky, 1988, p. 102). Once we find an answer to this question, we can ask what sorts of processes have intervened leading form the data available to the knowledge that resulted. Chomsky explains:

The input-output situation is this: a child who initially does not have knowledge of a language constructs for himself knowledge of a language on the basis of a certain amount of data; the input is the data, the output -- which of course is internally represented -- is the knowledge of a language. It's this relationship between the data available, and the knowledge of the language which results from the child's mental activities, which constitutes the data for the study of learning -- of how the transition takes place from the input data to the resulting knowledge (Chomsky, 1988, p. 102).

Chomsky states that this is different from the behaviorist stimulus-response conception, which he says can only lead to a system of habits, a network of associations or some structure of a similar sort. He says it is quite impossible to formulate as a system of habits or as a network of associations the processes which will account for the sound-meaning relation that we all know we have mastered intuitively when we learn English. For one thing, language has a creative aspect in which ambiguities are balanced in ways that convey meaning in spite of the ambiguities: "Whatever a habit-structure is, it's clear that you can't innovate by habit, and the characteristic use of language, both by a speaker and a hearer, is innovation" (Chomsky, 1988, p. 103).

Chomsky's formulation has certain good points: 1) it makes a strong link between the environment of the speaker and the acquisition of language; 2) it provides for relationships between different languages that show a similar mode of thought on the part of speakers everywhere and that thus would explain the acquisition of language in different societies and at different time periods; and 3) it helps explain the acquisition and use of language as an ongoing process and as one in which the speaker participates as innovator. The theory also has certain bad aspects: 1) it points to the sources of language acquisition and the mechanisms of language acquisition without really explaining the process that takes place; 2) it presumes underlying modes of thought in language without identifying or examining them; and 3) it does not make clear what the social role of language acquisition may be or whether there is such a role. Both theories offer interesting ideas for speculation, but neither can be considered definitive.

Review of Literature

An international group of scientists called the Chimp Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, which consists of sixty-seven researchers, co-authored a study showing that the genome of the chimpanzee is 96% similar to the human genome. Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. This piece of information provides researchers with a new key to comprehending human biology and evolution as well as speech development. The comparison of the genetic differences, meaning the study of the sequences that the researchers have identified as distinct, may hold the key to determining what creates human-specific traits, such as human speech (Lovgren, 2005).

Scientists at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland have found evidence that chimpanzees communicate verbally about food in their environment. These chimpanzees produce distinct high-pitched noises or grunts for specific food items, linking the sound produced to the meaning the chimpanzees intend to convey. This is an essential requirement for identifying a language. The chimps grunt differently for bread, which is their favorite food, than they do when they grunt for apples, which they simply do not like as much. The scientists found that when they recorded these grunts and played them back to the chimpanzees, a "bread" grunt sent them scurrying to the part of their enclosure where bread was fed and an "apple" grunt directed them to the area where apples were fed. These grunts, known as functionally referential signals, may not refer specially to bread and apples but more generally to favorite food vs. less favored food. The scientists will continue to investigate this link. Study co-author Zuberbuhler thinks that the grunts may have a social function and that perhaps the chimps are calling others as dinner companions because he says that chimps rarely make noises when they eat alone. While previous studies have found that monkeys, as opposed to apes, communicate with sound about events in their environment and that great apes can communicate with hand signals, this study, published in Current Biology, is one of the first to find chimps using vocal communication (Appel, 2005).

Cantalupo and Hopkins (2001), researchers at Yerkes Primate Research Centre at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia discovered that gorillas and chimpanzees have a rudimentary speech center in their brains that was previously thought to be found only in humans. Brain scans have revealed "a small, lopside structure buried in the front part of the head which in humans is critical for language." This structure, which is known as Brodmann's area 44, is a part of the brain known as Broca's area. Cantalupo and Hopkins' scans show that this area is larger and more developed in the left half of the ape's brain than the right, which is the same as you would see in humans and is linked to right handedness. It has been observed that chimpanzees tend to use their right hands when grunting. Cantalupo and Hopkins state in the journal Nature, "The part possession by great apes of a homologue of Broca's area is puzzling, particularly considering the discrepancy between sophisticated human speech and the primitive vocalizations of great apes." The researchers consider this feature a curious and ancient landmark in the evolution from ape to man. It is another puzzle piece in the study of the language of potential of apes (Cantalupo & Hopkins 2001).

A news report tells about Patrick Dunn, an Ohio University psychologist who has been involved with teaching chimpanzees sign language since the late 1970s, is involved in a unique experimental situation. Colby, a 23-year-old chimpanzee is the only chimp Drumm has ever met who learned sign language from private individuals, not scientists. Drumm, a respected expert, knows of only nine chimpanzees that have been taught by scientists to sign. Colby was taught 50 signs as a young chimpanzee but when his owners became too old to handle him he was given to the zoo where he had no opportunity to use these signs. Colby's ability to sign has diminished through disuse, but he learned to use signs during a critical learning period in his infancy. Drumm believes that with some assistance, the chimp can "re-establish communication with humans." Drumm calls Colby a sloppy signer because he is out of practice and time diminishes skill. Drumm will be attempting to reteach Colby sign language, and in his initial sessions with Colby it is obvious the chimpanzee still responds to certain signs. Dunn believes the animal must have suffered frustration when his signing was ignored and feels that the research and attempt to reteach the animal will improve his life (CBS News Sci-Tech, 2003).

In a study published in the August 2001 issue of The Journal of Physical Anthropology, scientists created detailed computer analyses of "a basic, functional unit of the human and non-human brain known as a minicolumn, a group of 80 to 100 cells and the wiring that connects them. Millions of these minicolumns are found throughout the brain; their studies focused on the minicolumns found in an area of the brain involved in language called the planum temporale." These minicolumns are different in their appearance in the human brain, and they are also different in that they are lateralized, meaning larger on the left side than on the right side of the brain, according to Dr. Buxhoeveden, who states, "We didn't find this in the chimpanzee or the monkey." The researchers believe these differences in "wiring" may be an explanation of man has superior communication skills in comparison to the more basic skills evident in nonhuman primates.

While many previous studies have compared both the individual brain cells and the whole brain in man and ape and found that cell physiology is essentially the same in both cases and that brains and areas of the brain may look from the outside at least very similar (though usually smaller for apes), these units…

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