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Darwin-L Message Log 6:3 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<6:3>From 00HFSTAHLKE@leo.bsuvc.bsu.edu  Tue Feb  1 07:43:08 1994

Date: Tue, 01 Feb 1994 08:51:33 -0500 (EST)
From: 00hfstahlke@leo.bsuvc.bsu.edu
Subject: Re: Who, what, where, when, etc.
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Hanna Tuomisto writes:

>As to chimp sign boards, I think Craig McConnell may be right: if the
>chimps were never given a chance to ask questions, it's difficult to tell
>whether they actually would have had the capacity to do so. Correct me if

It's difficult to tell much about cognitive capacities of chimps from
what's available on a computer sign board, as in the Lana Project and
its successors at Yerkes.  Lana, in the original project, had
lexigrams (the project's term for the symbols she was trained to use)
for objects and persons, relational words like prepositions, and
predicative concepts like verbs.  There were also symbols used as
utterance initiators, including a command/request marker, recorded in
computer records as PLEASE, and an interrogative marker, recorded as
QUESTION.  In her training and usage, PLEASE was used only with
sentences directing the computer to do something, like dispense food
or open a window.  QUESTION was used by Lana to direct humans to do
something and by humans both directively and to ask Lana for
information.  Lana did not commonly use QUESTION in the latter way,
but I would have to dig back through data tapes to check that
carefully.  A fairly extensive body of data from the Lana project is
reported in several chapters of

Rumbaugh, Duane M.  1977.  Language Learning by a Chimpanzee: the
Lana Project.  New York:  Academic Press.

I strongly recommend the book for anyone interested in a detailed
review of a major primate language project.

>I'm mistaken, but I recall from somewhere that chimps that were taught the
>sign language used by deaf people were able to understand and formulate
>questions. Unfortunately I do not have any reference on this; if anyone
>does, please let me know.

I can't speak to this directly, but I can recommend the following
additional bibliography on the topic.  As is to be expected in such a
controversial area, you'll find a wide variety of viewpoints expressed
in these works.

de Luce, Judith, and Hugh T. Wilder.  1983.  Language in primates:
perspectives and implications.  New York:  Springer-Verlag.

Premack, David.  1986.  Gavagai! or the Future History of the Animal
Language Controversy.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press

Sebeok, Thomas A. and Jean Umiker-Sebeok (eds).  1980.  Speaking of
apes:  a critical anthology of two-way communication with man.  New
York:  Plenum Press.

Terrace, Herbert S.  1979.  Nim.  New York:  Knopf.

Wallman, Joel.  1992.  Aping language.  New York:  Cambridge
University Press.

I'd like to put the question about questions in a slightly different
way.  That is, do chimpanzees who have been trained in some form of
linguistic behavior (note I am treating as moot the question of
whether chimps can learn language) express in their linguistic terms
their evident capacity for inquisitive behavior.  The answer, as some
of the conversations in the Rumbaugh book indicate, is pretty clearly
yes.  Does this mean that they have a syntactic form called
interrogative?  Only if they've been taught it.  There are other ways
of expressing that illocutionary force.

Herb Stahlke

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