Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee
Allen and Beatrice Gardner researched the extent to which another species may be able to use human language. Scholarly research may provide insight into limitations of the language barrier between animals and humans, but Allen and Beatrice decided to attempt to teach a human language to an animal to determine if a coalition could be made between language and various activities. Choosing an appropriate animal to conduct experiments on was a vital choice for this particular research. Allen and Beatrice Gardner needed a species that possessed sound intelligence. Perhaps more importantly, they needed a species that had the capacity to form strong bonds with humans. Finding an animal that was very sociable would be the key in finding conclusive data to support their research, as it is likely necessary in order to develop language.
Allen and Beatrice kicked off their study by finding an infant female chimpanzee, which they named Washoe. Since Washoe lived in the wild, there was a high potential for the Gardner's research to become exceptionally perilous. Disregarding the possibility of danger, they decided to try to teach Washoe American Sign Language. This was a good choice, not only because the vocal system of a chimpanzee is very different than that of a human, but also because chimpanzees are only vocal during times of heightened excitement--suggesting that a spoken language would be very difficult to induce. Anatomical similarities between humans and chimpanzees also encouraged this decision. The first few months were spent bonding and helping Washoe adapt to the daily routine. Confinement was minimal; a number of participants were enlisted to bond with Washoe. All of Washoe's human companions exclusively used sign language, as to not make her feel inferior or to incite interest in spoken language.
Allen and Beatriz Gardener observed Washoe's use of rather...
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