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  1. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) “Spontaneous symbol acquisition and communicative use by pygmy chimpanzees” Lesson 1 – Background & Context

  2. Starter • “Furious green ideas sleep peacefully”: • does the sentence make sense? • is the sentence grammatical? • how did you make these decisions?

  3. Learning Objective At the end of this lesson you should be able to: - describe the nature-nurture debate regarding language development

  4. Language vs Communication Language is a system of symbols (words / sounds) which convey meaning. Communication is the transmission of ‘something’ (a message, signal) from one location to another. Some form of language is necessary for communication. Linguistic universals are present in all languages. - Can animals communicate (with one another / with us?) - Do animals have language?

  5. COMPONENTS OF LANGUAGE PHONOLOGY (sound patterns) SEMANTICS (meaning patterns) GRAMMAR (rules of language) PRAGMATICS (rules of effective communication)

  6. Children’s Language Development • 2 mths – cooing (pre-linguistic) • 6 mths – reduplicated babbling (‘dadada’) • 12 mths – one-word utterances • 18-24 mths – two-word utterances (telegraphic speech) • 3 yrs – vocabulary of @1000 words; use of personal pronoun • 6-7 yrs – rules of grammar are mastered Language comprehension develops before language production. Work out the time-line for language development.

  7. Children’s Language Development Was this time-line true: - for you - your siblings • Some exceptions / anomalies: • language disorders: - dyslexia - (selective) mutism • autism • individual / gender differences

  8. Nature-Nurture Debate

  9. Explain the nature and nurture debate using Skinner and Chomsky

  10. What makes us human? What do you think are the main differences between primates and humans? Are there any similarities?

  11. Some differences Humans have: • a theory of mind (‘Sally-Anne task’) • consciousness / self-awareness • the ability for tool use • language ability • high levels of intelligence • less instinctive behaviour Some similarities • Living as part of a group • Genetic material (98%)

  12. But what about this?

  13. And this?


  15. Earlier Research on Primates

  16. Gardner & Gardner (Washoe) • A case study • Participant - a female chimp • Age - approx I year old • Procedure - Washoe lived in a caravan in the Gardner’s garden & was taught American Sign Language (ASL)

  17. Washoe’s progress ... • First SINGLE WORDS • come, gimme, hurry, sweet, tickle • 34 after 21 months • by 4 years over 100 signs • YES – SEMANTICITY (meaning) • signed TOOTHBRUSH in bathroom • signed FLOWER in garden and when shown picture of flower

  18. Washoe’s progress ... • YES - CREATIVITY • Washoe spontaneously used combinations of signs • GIMME TICKLE - come and tickle me • OPEN FOOD DRINK - open the fridge • LISTEN EAT - listen to the dinner gong • GO SWEET - take me to the raspberry bushes

  19. Washoe’s progress ... • NO STRUCTURE DEPENDENCE • English children usually put the SUBJECT before the ACTION • Mummy come • Eve read • Car gone • Washoe did not seem to do this • GO SWEET or SWEET GO both used for take me to the raspberry bushes

  20. Plenary Three things you’ve learnt today.

  21. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) “Spontaneous symbol acquisition and communicative use by pygmy chimpanzees” Lesson 2 – The Core Study

  22. Learning Objective At the end of this lesson you should be able to: - describe the key features of Savage-Rumbaugh et al’s study into ape language

  23. Aim of Study To study the language acquisition (specifically, comprehension) of two bonobo (or pygmy) chimps (Kanzi & Mulika) and draw comparisons with that of two common chimps (Austin & Sherman) who had been previously studied. (I will tweet the other parts to this!)

  24. Method: • case study, using • longitudinal design (17 month period) with observation Sample: • 4 great apes; focus on Kanzi (male pygmy chimp) – study began when aged 2:6yrs and separated from his mother; born in captivity.

  25. Apparatus: • Lexigram board – made up of symbols used to stand for words; these symbols brighten up when touched (256 keys). • Note: each lexigram did not look like the object or word it stood for. •

  26. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) The visual symbol system • Indoors: battery powered keyboard with geometric symbols that brighten when touched, then speech synthesiser ‘speaks’ the word • Outdoors: copy of keyboard as laminated pointing board • each symbol called a lexigram

  27. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) Kanzi’s outdoor environment • 55 acres forest; 17 food locations; must travel to ‘get food’ each location for a specific food type e.g. bananas to treehouse, peaches to lookout • Kanzi learned where all the food was located • could select a food from photos on the ground and could guide another person to his chosen location • learned to use the symbols on the keyboard to indicate where he wanted to go

  28. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) Longitudinal case study - data collection • records kept of Kanzi’s language development (symbol use) for 17 months • from the age of 2 1/2 • computerised records from keyboard • notes from observers when outside

  29. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) Longitudinal case study The data (assessing Kanzi’s symbol use) • correct or incorrect • spontaneous • imitation • structured (e.g. responds to question) • also behavioural concordance (agreement) • e.g. if request to ‘go to treehouse’ led a person to the treehouse

  30. Procedure: • bonobos lived at the Language Research Centre (had human companions who also used ASL and spoken English) • exposed to lexigram keyboard – which eventually consisted of 256 keys • Kanzi & Mulika learned through observation (mother was Matata) – no formal training provided to chimps • all utterances were recorded and coded: - correct / incorrect - spontaneous / imitated / structured • criteria for learning of symbol: - behavioural concordance measure (what Kanzi said had to match up with what he did) • tests consisted of: - ‘blind’ test in forest (with person unconnected with training) - matching photo to lexigram symbol - matching photo to spoken English - matching lexigram symbol to spoken English

  31. Results 1: • Greater use of specific and untutored gestures by K & M • Early referential use of lexigrams (M at 12mths) • Symbol acquisition: K = 44; M = 37 lexigrams • ‘Blind test’ in forest – K able to lead experimenter out of forest by correctly using photos and lexigrams

  32. D A B F Results 2: • 80% of K’s utterances were spontaneous • Use of combinations (multiple symbols) – 2,500+ correct and mostly about initiating games

  33. Results 3: Formal Vocabulary Tests • Bonobos can understand spoken English whereas common chimps cannot Show me the tomato lexigram

  34. Conclusions from Study • Compared to other species of chimp, pygmy chimps appear to be able to learn and use language more like a human child. • Shows role of nurture (culture learning).

  35. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) “Spontaneous symbol acquisition and communicative use by pygmy chimpanzees” Lesson 3 – Evaluation & Extension

  36. Thinking Skills Implications, Applications & Changes Evaluation Synthesis Strengths & Weaknesses of Savage-Rumbaugh et al’s study Analysis Application Issues & Debates Results & Conclusions Understanding Methods Background & Context Knowledge Approach (Cognitive)

  37. Issues & Debates Which of the above issues / debates are raised by the Savage-Rumbaugh study?

  38. Evaluating Savage-Rumbaugh STRENGTHS WEAKNESSES

  39. Savage-Rumbaugh et al (1986) CONTROL • analysis of videotape against real time coding of symbol use by 2 observers • 1 scored real time, 1 scored tape, real time observer did not know the record would be used for reliability check • 100% agreement on correct vs incorrect use of symbols • 1 disagreement over spontaneous use

  40. Evaluation in more detail • The research method could be described as a longitudinal case study and therefore allows in depth data to be collected and allows development to be studied over time. • For example, every utterance made by Kanzi was documented by the researchers over a 17 month period.

  41. Evaluation in more detail • It is also possible to argue that the study was high in ecological validity as Kanzi and the researchers could roam from place to place around the 55 acre site. • However the ecological validity can also be questioned as the subjects were not reared in their natural environment.

  42. Evaluation in more detail • The data was gathered under rigorous controls such as the formal tests and are therefore are less likely to be open to bias and subjectivity. • This improves both reliability and validity. • Similarly the data gathered were quantitative allowing for analysis and comparisons between chimpanzees to be made. • Qualitative data were also collected which improves the richness of the study.

  43. Evaluation in more detail • It is possible to criticise the ethical nature of this study. • Is it necessary to study chimpanzees in a human environment and to test their language skills in such a formal way? • Note though that the normal ethical guidelines do not apply to non human animals.

  44. Evaluation in more detail • The researchers did note that they were generalising from a very small sample of chimpanzees and a study of more subjects would have to be carried out for the study to be more representative. • Many researchers still doubt whether Kanzi and Mulika were using language in the complex way that humans do

  45. Ways of Investigating Language • primate studies using alternative apparatus / methods: - American Sign Language (ASL) - plastic tokens - brain-scanning technology • longitudinal studies of ‘normal’ humans from birth • studies of children raised by deaf parents (p136) • quasi-experiments / case studies of feral children - Genie - Czech twins

  46. And finally… • Let’s consider the issues raised by animal research: - ethics (of separation) - rights of animals – ‘Great Ape Project’

  47. Further Resources • Orgininal article (Savage-Rumbaugh) • Journal article: ‘’Monkey Business: primates & language” • Website: • Book: Primate Psychology - Chapter 14 (Language)