Thursday, November 09, 2006


Speaking Bonobo - The Language of 'Kanzi' (+Video)

From the Smithsonian: "To better understand bonobo intelligence, I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to meet Kanzi (info), a 26-year-old male bonobo reputedly able to converse with humans. When Kanzi was an infant, American psychologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh tried to teach his mother, Matata, to communicate using a keyboard labeled with geometric symbols. Matata never really got the hang of it, but Kanzi - who usually played in the background, seemingly oblivious, during his mother's teaching sessions - picked up the language.

Savage-Rumbaugh and her colleagues kept adding symbols to Kanzi's keyboard and laminated sheets of paper. First Kanzi used 6 symbols, then 18, finally 348. The symbols refer to familiar objects (yogurt, key, tummy, bowl), favored activities (chase, tickle), and even some concepts considered fairly abstract (now, bad).

Kanzi learned to combine these symbols in regular ways, or in what linguists call 'proto-grammar'. Once, Savage-Rumbaugh says, on an outing in a forest by the Georgia State University laboratory where he was raised, Kanzi touched the symbols for'marshmallow'and 'fire'. Given matches and marshmallows, Kanzi snapped twigs for a fire, lit them with the matches and toasted the marshmallows on a stick.

Continued at "Speaking Bonobo - The Language of 'Kanzi' (Video)" [Primatology, Linguistics, Vocabulary]

Featured Book: "Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind" (Amazon UK | US)

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