October 21, 2005
Wow, research done in a zoo about primate communication. I'll bet Jane, Dian and Biruté are all over this¡ Primates in the wild tend not to shit all over themselves and then throw it around and smear it all over the place. We already know that they vocalise, but if they are smoking because they imitate humans it is entirely possible that they are talking because they imitate humans. Oh, and I completely forgot that bread grows in tropical and subtropical jungles¡ My bad. Interesting tho'. In spite of knowing their capacity for language with signing.
"Primates in the wild tend not to shit all over themselves and then throw it around and smear it all over the place." Well, actually, they do. This is a pretty well observed bit of primate behaviour. While incarcerated primates grow very bored and often play in their shit because they have little else to do, in the wild they'll commonly use fresh dung as a thrown insult, as it were. Various great apes have been seen throwing shit at rival troops in patrol encounters, or other trespassers such as humes. "..if they are smoking because they imitate humans it is entirely possible that they are talking because they imitate humans." Good point, but this is more about what they are *capable* of doing, rather than what they commonly do in the wild. Chimps and Gorillas also use tools, an activity previously supposed to be something only homo sapiens engaged in, and where observed in captive apes it was assumed erroniously that they were copying humans, and that they simply weren't capable of this kind of sophistication in the wild. If captive chimps are capable of creating sounds that differentiate between types of food in the environment, it's not unlikely that they do this in the wild in some form. It will have to wait until it is observed in other captive groups before it can be turned into an active hypothesis, but this behaviour would be an evolutionary tactic that would afford great advantages in a complex jungle environment; it doesn't stand as a huge assumption based upon the laws of natural selection. It is, however, a bit of a stretch to think they are mimicking human speech, because this would require that they consciously understood that humans were using sound as symbol-patterns, rather than just random utterances. While chimps can recognise words and tie them to meaning after being trained, it would require a quite advanced bit of cerebral function for them to hear humans making sounds, grok that those sounds had symbolic meaning tied to objects and concepts, then come up with a system of different sounds as object-tags for themselves. Occam's razor suggests they have a natural propensity to do this (ape brains are already wired up with the requisite speech processing areas - we didn't engineer this, it's part of the family makeup). Whether bread grows in jungles isn't really relevant; the chimps don't know how it is made and simply regard it as a type of food they like. I would wager they have similar preferred foods in their natural habitat, too.
Well, actually, they do... >...tend not to... Feces and apes. My point was the boredom and the lousy research. Primatology should be done with respect, through (proto-) cultural ethnography. ...this is more about what they are *capable* of doing... >...In spite of knowing their capacity for language with signing... Potential does not necessarily equal invention but may follow through with innovation. ..it's not unlikely that they do this in the wild in some form... Absolutely, not unlikely. ...It is, however, a bit of a stretch to think they are mimicking human speech, because this would require that they consciously understood that humans were using sound as symbol-patterns, rather than just random utterances... Orangutan's use "long call" and "kissing" vocalisations for two different purposes. Why would we assume that any variation in our vocalisation would be random and meaningless to them? I'm sure it wouldn't translate, but there's no reason to say that because they have no "finger" for "that moon" that they can't see it. Children have primitive intellects. They often think that animals are talking to each other when the animals make calls. Communication occurs in many facets. Problems occur mostly in frame of reference. Would an ape think like a child? Would a dog think like a child? All primates, including humans of course, are imitators. One of the theories of proto-cultural transmission is based on this form of imitation. Imitation is a form of communication, it's like saying, "I understand what you're doing." No matter if one completely does or doesn't. The opinion I was trying to get across is that I thought the research may have been polluted from the environment and no one entertained the notion. You seem to think that I don't think apes have any of the capacities that they have been displaying to researchers in the wild since the sixties and seventies. Not true. ...Chimps and Gorillas also use tools... All apes use tools. And so do other animals. In fact, you might find this following link a cognitive divide between tool use and language. (And yes, both tool use and language are concerned with cognition, and crows can make very complicated vocalisations in imitation but not necessarily be comunicating with them.) Tool use in birds surpasses tool use in chimps. (The movie of Betty making hooks is pretty amazing.) Sorry if this is wandering, Chy, I'm really tired. But my beef is with the research, not the monkey.