Sign Languages Product
What are the boundary lines of being human Well, for one thing, they keep shrinking. Not too many decades ago we were human because we were Man the Hunter. But many species of primates hunt, so that couldn't really work as a boundary between us and the rest of the animal kingdom. Then the definition shifted to Man the Toolmaker, but Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees making and using tools, so that boundary was erased. Then, it was Man the Food-Sharer, but bonobos and chimps share their food. How about Man the User of Language Uh-oh, those pesky chimps, bonobos, and gorillas could be taught American Sign Language Surely, Man the Possesser of Culture will work to describe us
The difficulty is operationalizing unspecialized cognition in all species. Researchers usually look to abilities associated with complex cognition in humans. If we want to include as many taxa as possible in our tests, we have to look outside of tests that only a few nonhuman species can solve, such as learned sign language, episodic memory, fast-mapping, or understanding of the mental states of others (theory of mind). Associative learning is one obvious possibility. If we define the continuum of cognitive complexity as the latency of or the number of errors in learning, however, we face the problem of confounding variables and ecological validity. If a crow solves a learning test in the lab faster than does a kiwi, this might be because that the crow is tamer and less neophobic in the lab, the task favors visual rather than olfactory cues, or the task resembles situations crows encounter often in the field but kiwis do not. What we need is cognition that occurs spontaneously in the...
The idea that apes' brains are capable of sophisticated communication but that their peripheral anatomy does not allow them to speak has underlain the many studies in ape sign language. Washoe, the chimp, and Koko, the gorilla, for example, can both communicate in simple sentences by signing with their hands, but they cannot articulate words. By looking at the anatomical differences between humans and apes and comparing these findings with the fossil record, paleoanthropologists have come up with some interesting insights into the evolution of spoken language.
The Gardner's hit upon a brilliant idea Teach a chimpanzee American sign language, known by its acronym Ameslan, and sometimes as American deaf and dumb language (the dumb refers, of course, to the inability to speak and not to any failure of intelligence). It is ideally suited to the immense manual dexterity of the chimpanzee. It also may have all the crucial design features of verbal languages.
Chimpanzees, which lack the finely tuned motor apparatus necessary to produce speech, can be taught sign language as a means of communication. While they can construct a wide variety of two-word sentences to express simple ideas, like eat banana or go outside, they lack the syntax necessary to produce a complex sentence such as the one you are reading now. Because of this great gap between us and other species, even intelligent ones like chimps, anthropologists believe that language developed relatively late in hominid evolution.
Extensive gestural languages were employed by many human hunting communities-for example, among the Plains Indians, who also used smoke signals. According to Homer, the victory of the Hellenes at Troy was conveyed from Ilium to Greece, a distance of some hundred miles, by a series of signal fires. The date was about 1100 B.C. However, both the repertoire of ideas and the speed with which ideas can be communicated in gestural or sign languages is limited. Darwin pointed out that gestural languages cannot usefully be employed while our hands are otherwise occupied, or at night, or when our view of the hands is obstructed. One can imagine gestural languages being gradually supplemented and then supplanted by verbal languages -which originally may have been onomatopoeic (that is, imitative in sound of the object or action being described). Children call dogs bow-wows. In almost all human languages the child's word for mother seems imitative of the sound made inadvertently while feeding at...