Will animals eventually learn to speak?

To add something to what Lykia Ookami wrote about talking primates:

Primates can also learn such forms of communication by watching.

One of the stars of primate language research is the Bonobo Kanzi[1 . This communicates by means of so-called lexigrams, i.e. image keys which symbolize, for example, an object or an activity.Kanzi knows how to express himself in 300 of them.

The interesting thing is that Kanzi had not originally been taught the language by the researchers.

The actual subject of the investigators at that time was Kanzi’s mother, but Kanzi, because he was still very small, always accompanied his mother on the experimental sessions (in which attempts were made to teach his mother (more bad than right) this lexigram language).

Eventually, the researchers noticed that Kanzi was always watching very attentively during these test sessions, and they simply left Kanzi on the apparatus with lexigrams for fun.

This was a good idea, because they found that he could handle the lexigrams and understood the content of the lessons far better than his mother.


Likewise, (non-human) primates can actively teach their fellows to communicate in ASL (i.e. the sign language already mentioned in the case of Koko).

There is another example of this, namely the chimpanzee Washoe, who died in 2007[2 . Not only did she learn ASL, but she also taught her son and other contemporaries, and also incorporated ASL gestures into conversations with her peers.


On the other hand, as far as verbal communication is concerned:

The interesting thing is that, despite the structural differences, schimapnses and bonobos seem to have larynxes that allow a human language (there was also a young chimpanzee called a young chimpanzee raised by biologists in the 1940s. Viki[3 which, but with difficulty, could say 4 human words, including “Mom” and “Dad”).

However, according to a recent study, where chimpanzees and bonobos lack the (human) neuromousular connections and brain centers that would allow appropriate fine-morotic control of the muscles in the larynx and mouth area[4

Footnotes

[1 Kanzi (Bonobo) – Wikipedia

[2 Washoe (chimpanzee) – Wikipedia

[3 Viki (chimpanzee) – Wikipedia

[4 Why apes can’t talk: our study suggests they’ve got the voice but not the brains

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