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Kanzi extends his speech reach....

Kanzi extends his speech reach . . .

While the ability of common chimpanzees to understand language is not as clear as some researchers originally contended (SN:5/10/80, p.298), another species -- the pygmy chimpanzee -- can learn to comprehend English words and short sentences without specific training, says psychologist Duane Rumbaugh of Georgia State University in Atlanta.

He and colleague Sue Savage-Rumbaugh are directing research with a pygmy chimp named Kanzi. The chimp consistently identifies objects in his surroundings or engages in behaviors corresponding to 149 of 194 words presented so far, says Rumbaugh. Kanzi hears the words through headphones so his caregivers are not aware of which word is being tested. He also demonstrates understading of simple sentences of at least three words. If, for example, a caregiver says, "I hid the surprise by my foot," he immediately approaches the speaker and lifts her foot.

Kanzi's use of symbol on a keyboard to make requests is not as extensive as his language comprehension, Rumbaugh says, but he does practice simple grammatical ordering rules for putting pairs of symbols together in novel ways. For instance, actions usually precede objects in Kanzi's requests; he presses symbols for "KEEPAWAY BALLOON" when he wants to tease a caregiver with a balloon and start a playful fight.

Kanzi picked up some grammatical ordering rules from the experimenters, says Rumbaugh, but developed other ordering patterns on his own.

"The pygmy chimpanzee species can understand substantial amounts of speech," Rumbaugh maintains. "This was unanticipated and came about with no specific training."
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Title Annotation:language use by chimpanzee
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 27, 1988
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