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  1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Can a gorilla know 1,000 signs and speak American Sign Language?

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Link the Writer, Aug 20, 2014.

    This quote by our dear GingerCoffee had inspired me to make this thread. Can a gorilla like Koko know as many signs as claimed? I've always heard that the smartest ape is as intelligent as our human toddlers, so with that in mind, Koko is as smart as a deaf toddler. To me, it's not unfeasible that Koko herself would know that many signs.

    Thoughts? I'll post mine later, but I'm looking forward to what Ginger has to say, and what you all have to say as well. :D
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Know the meaning of a thousand signs? Possibly. Use the signs correctly herself? Probably not. Combine the signs into sentences? I very much doubt it.
     
  3. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I have no doubt that you can teach an animal (with hands) how to make the sign for apple when shown an apple. I do have doubts that a gorilla can communicate its thoughts through our language. There are examples of Koko signing her feelings that we see, but how often is she sitting in the corner throwing up gibberish and digging in her butt.

    Humans try so hard and want so much to anthropomorphize animals. There isn't any conclusive evidence (and more to the contrary) to support this.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The problem with Koko is the research and the researcher have been mostly discredited. Is the gorilla intelligent, yes, communicating, yes, but not as claimed. Dr Patterson, the researcher who works with Koko, does a lot of really bad science.

    Non-human primate language is a field wrought with controversy. Some people have discounted all the research, claiming it's no more than Clever Hans conditioning. Some of the research is very convincing until examined more closely, like that with Koko.

    And some of the results teaching non-human primates language is legit and, if taught from infancy on, Bonobos and Chimpanzees can learn language including syntax and have even been observed teaching it to new infants and toddler apes.

    Early research used adult chimps. It wasn't very successful leading researchers to conclude it couldn't be done. But once infant and toddler chimps were used the results were much different.

    I did a lot of investigating of the claims surrounding non-human primate language when my beliefs about Koko were challenged. The challenges turned out to be true, I'd believed the news accounts because they sounded reasonable. And it continues to this day. People who haven't carefully looked at the research pass on the claims as 'proven', 'real' etc. But the evidence is seriously flawed, mostly it is not repeatable by anyone but Patterson.

    I don't really have time today to post a slew of links so I'll have to do that later.

    As for Koko, when ASL speakers couldn't understand anything Koko signed, Patterson claimed Koko knew GSL (gorilla sign language) because her hand anatomy differed from humans. But when observers watch Koko signing without all the other cues like Patterson telling them what Koko is saying, they just don't report consistent signing and communication.

    Look at the video with Robin Williams and Koko with a skeptical eye. Patterson says Koko is signing "chase". Koko goes in the kitchen, there's nothing resembling a chase game, it's more like follow me in the kitchen.

    Patterson says Koko is signing, tickle. It's not clear with that one either that is what Koko wants. Try watching it without the audio on and see if you see anything resembling consistent repeatable sign language.

    This is not to say gorillas and other primates aren't incredibly intelligent. And I have no doubt Koko enjoyed her pet kitten and was probably sad when it died. We evolved and the other great apes are our close cousins. They are a lot like us, including having empathy and a sense of fairness. Some species are more altruistic than others. But they are not exactly like us. Their own language tends to have a very limited vocabulary.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2014
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  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It happened in The X-Files so it must be true.

    Incidentally, I was reading about gorillas today, and the estimate was in hundreds. The X-Files quite possibly lied to me. :(
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Estimate of what @KaTrian? Their natural vocabulary or the number of signs in Koko's? Just curious.
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The number of signs. Except now that I backtracked the articles I read today, it was actually about chimpanzees; a couple of hundred signs.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    From another discussion about Koko on the SGU forum:

    There are more transcripts worth looking at on the link.
     
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