Psych of Language
Lec Sept 18
Lecture 3 slides
Problem with speech
Look at sign language instead
Primate sign language
Teach them in a fairly structured way the manual signs that correspond with words,
see if they learn this, if they can form sentences
Sarah: an adult chimp that learned sign with extensive training. a lot of this work
was done using the principles of behaviorism, operant training, Produce signs in
order to get a reward.
Learned a fairly large vocabulary (human is about 1000 of signs, but nevertheless
this is a lot of signs)
Other famous primates
Washoe: they wanted him to be able to string together signs into novel sentences.
Created a compound word: water-bird; evidence of language creativity, however its
hard to be able to determine the significance, could have been subjective.
Koko: symbol for gorilla conversation, these animals are smart enough to use
human language they must be important. BUT, human language does not necessarily
mean intelligence? Animals can be brilliant but there are different forms
Kokos internet chat
She can sign out but does she comprehend what penny is saying? She’s not
responding really so….
Theres a lot of signing about things in the present space, no time travel
(displacement) language. Koko may not be able to understand that someone in the
here and now is in a different place.
Very little evidene than a chimpanzee will spontaneously produce a sign that
indicates something or transmits an idea, don’t seem to use language in the same
way that humans do- for communication.
Most constructive study
Way of trying to look more closely at the training by applying what we know about
how humans learn language and trying to teach a chimp in that way
Everything nim did was recorded (video), yes nim is capable of learning a
vocabulary, but nim was not singing in a way that was creative or new, didn’t use
signs spontaneously, very rewards based, knowing if he produced a sign at a certain
time he would get a reward.
Syntactic rules don’t seem to apply; grammatical rules are broken and errors are
made that a human child would not make; not sure how to sequence things to make
meaningful sentences, don’t have that mental grammar. Using the best methods possible you couldn’t get very far teaching these animals to
Studies of Bonobos
More docile, more social, may be able to solve types of problems that make them
seem more human.
Savage rumbaugh lady suggested that sign language may not be the best source of
communication as well (hand dexterity, etc)
Yerkish is a big board, press different buttons on the board, each button is a
different word in English
Have to produce a sequence, in order, to get the reward.
Train kanzie to produce increasingly more thought invoking sentences
Still not clear how language evolved
Continuity: language should look like what happens in other species
Language is where the limiting factor is; why did langua