Hilyard 1Wyatt HilyardM. ScogginANTH 410March 8, 2013 Position Paper Introduction Primatology, a subdivision of biological anthropology, has many definitions and uses. Tosome, it is a study of primates on their own, separate from human evolution and ethology. Mostmodern and historical primatology research, however, is linked to human evolution behavioralstudies. One of the major interests of this kind of research is human/primate communication. Inthis paper I will argue that the great apes are capable of understanding and utilizing humanlanguage to some extent. The degree to which each species is ultimately able to communicatewith humans will be shown using case studies. A Brief History of Primatology Before we talk about primate language studies, it is important to understand the history ofthe relatively new science of primatology. Many consider Robert Yerkes to be the founder ofprimatology, publishing several animal psychology works in the early to mid 20th century. In theearly 1920s, inspired by a recent trip to primate research facilities in Cuba, he bought twochimpanzees from a local zoo in Pennsylvania and raised them in his home. The methods he usedare viewed by many as unscientific and unethical, but there was little objection at the time. Hefounded the first research laboratory specific to primate research in 1929. Being primarily apsychologist, Yerkes most notable work was outside primatology. In the mid 1910s, he created a
Hilyard 2series of alpha/beta tests that turned into IQ tests given to the U.S. Army, and ended up beingused to fuel the debates on immigration restriction in 1924. Yerkes claimed his tests measurednative intelligence, but the way they were formulated unintentionally relied on a certain amountof education and cultural knowledge. His personal and professional views on hereditary eugenicsand intelligence make him unpopular today. His work is often discredited due to the inherentinfluence those views had on his research and interpretation of his findings. Regardless of bothareas of politically-incorrect research, he is still viewed as a sort of pioneer of primatology. TheYerkes Regional Primate Research Center is still fully-functioning, and his name has been usedin tribute to refer to a form of symbolic primate language, Yerkish, which will be discussed laterin this paper. “Leakeys Angels” is a term used to refer to three pioneering female primatologists: JaneGoodall (chimpanzees,) Dian Fossey (gorillas,) and Birute Galdikas (orangutans.) All threerecieved a substantial amount of funding and publicity from Louis Leaky, a major figure inarchaeology and paleoanthropology. Goodall was the first of this group, and probably the mostpublicized primatologist to date. She started her field work in 1960 in Tanzania, thenTanganyika. She is often criticized by modern primatologists for her training and methodology.She had no scientific field training; she was a secretary. In her field work she greatlyanthropomorphized the individuals in the group she studied. This drew popularity to her work(people love stories of cute chimps running around and creating mischief,) but was a hindranceto the emerging science of primatology. For decades after it was impossible to get funding if yourfield work didnt have some sort of tie to human evolution. I think part of that stems from the factthat Louis Leakeys work was human evolution, and that concept was unintentionally attached to
Hilyard 3the first major steps in popular primatology. That, coupled with anthropomorphization on the partof the scientists, hurt the disciplines reputation as a science. Although unpopular, it is nowpossible to do research on primates without tying in human evolution. Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethologist, is one of the most popular activeprimate behavior scientists. He has published numerous books on the subject, which focusmainly on the social lives of primates. He links the behaviors of chimpanzees and bonobos tohuman behavioral traits. An issue I personally have with de Waals bonobo field work inparticular is that it was conducted at the San Diego Zoo. Factors such as unnaturally high stresslevels are consequential to a captive environment, meaning the behavioral observations he madeare skewed. His research has contributed to the slogan “make love, not war” based on hisobservations that bonobos use sex instead of fighting to settle high-tension situations. This istrue, but due to the fact his studies were conducted in captivity, the rates he recorded are not thesame as the natural ethology of bonobos. I would have no objection if this distinction wasntoverlooked by the general media and had affected view the public now has of the species. Through my brief history of primatology, I have pointed out one common flaw of each ofthe aforementioned players: anthropomorphizing their research. De Waals approach is the same,and has even spoken out against its resistance, calling it “anthropodenial.” He offers the analogyof a brick wall; people in anthropodenial attempt to build a brick wall separating humans fromtheir evolutionary ancestors. “They carry on the tradition of René Descartes, who declared thatwhile humans possessed souls, animals were mere automatons. This produced a serious dilemmawhen Charles Darwin came along: If we descended from such automatons, were we notautomatons ourselves? If not, how did we get to be so different?” (de Waal, “Are We in
Hilyard 4Anthropodenial”). According to this analogy, a brick is pulled from the wall each time one ofthese questions is asked. He attributes our “anthropodenial” to parsimony, “that we must make asfew assumptions as possible when trying to construct a scientific explanation” (de Waal, “AreWe in Anthropodenial”). Personally, I agree with this idea, and liken it to the legal concept of“innocent until proven guilty.” The reason behind a given behavior must be tested, notimmediately explained by our own reason for similar behavior. And this sort of testing has beenapplied in certain circles of scientists, but isnt over yet. Language Studies of the Great Apes When it comes to experiments dealing with apes abilities to learn and understand humanlanguage, there have been a few different approaches: sign language, physical tokens withsymbols, and an asymmetric form of communication that utilizes drawn symbols. Each has itsown theoretical and methodological advantages and setbacks. The degree to which thecommunication is two-way is important, as well as the ability for the ape in question to retain thetaught information. Signing The most famous sign language experiment has to be Koko the gorilla, who has gotten anincredible amount of media attention over the years.Greenberg, Joel. “Koko.” Science News 114.16 (1978): 265–270. JSTOR. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3963439>. A fairly early sign language experiment was on Washoe the chimpanzee, which started in1967.Gardner, R. Allen, and Beatrice T. Gardner. "Teaching sign language to a chimpanzee." Science
165.3894 (1969): 664-672. <http://www.psych.yorku.ca/gigi/documents/Gardner_Gardner_1969.pdf>. Tokens David Premacks primatology work dates back to 1954 when he joined the YerkesNational Primate Research Center.Premack, David. “Human and Animal Cognition: Continuity and Discontinuity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104.35 (2007): 13861– 13867. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/25436587.pdf>.Premack, David. “Is Language the Key to Human Intelligence?” Science 303.5656 (2004): 318– 320. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3835976.pdf>.Premack, David. "Language in chimpanzees." Science 172 (1971): 808-822. <http://karen.stanley.people.cpcc.edu/docs%20for%20EFL%20074/Animal %20Communication%20rev.doc>. Symbols The names Kanzi and Panbanisha dont elicit the same response from the general publicas Koko, but they are also well-known apes in this field. The project they are under, the GreatApe Trust, is lead by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, whose approach is very controversial.Savage-Rumbaugh, E. Sue et al. “The Capacity of Animals to Acquire Language: Do Species Differences Have Anything to Say to Us?” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 308.1135 (1985): 177–185. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2396292>.Savage-Rumbaugh, E. Sue, and Duane M. Rumbaugh. “Ape Language Research Is Alive and Well: A Reply.” Anthropos 77.3/4 (1982): 568–573. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40460489.>. Continuing Issues Within the Field Since this paper assesses the capacity for the great apes to learn human language, it wouldseem these two viewpoints, “anthropodenial” and anthropomorphization, are contradictory whenargued in the same paper. I think both aspects have their place and it is vital that they remainseparate. In terms of public perception, the de Waal camp is certainly predominant. However, ifother taxonomic studies like ornithology and ichthyology are more or less free of these conceptsthat alter scientific perceptions, why cant there be a section of research carved out for
primatology that is ideally un-anthropomorphic? That is probably the largest problem with these kinds of behavioral experiments,choosing a theoretical side. Being categorized under anthropology, there is an inherentanthropomorphic viewpoint to primatology. The extent to which you mix that with themethodologies of “hard science” will determine what kind of primate behavior research you do,as well as the kind of criticism you receive from both academia and the public. Conclusion
Works Citedde Waal, Frans B. M. “Are We in Anthropodenial? | DiscoverMagazine.com.” Discover Magazine. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://discovermagazine.com/1997/jul/areweinanthropod1180>.de Waal, Frans B. M. “The Communicative Repertoire of Captive Bonobos (Pan Paniscus), Compared to That of Chimpanzees.” Behaviour 106.3/4 (1988): 183–251. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4534707.>.de Waal, Frans B. M. “Complementary Methods and Convergent Evidence in the Study of Primate Social Cognition.” Behaviour 118.3/4 (1991): 297–320. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4534969>.Fouts, Roger. "Chimpanzees And Sign Language: Darwinian Realities Versus Cartesian Delusions." Pluralist 6.3 (2011): 19-24. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=ofm&AN=527178775&site=ehost-live>.Gardner, R. Allen, and Beatrice T. Gardner. "Teaching sign language to a chimpanzee." Science 165.3894 (1969): 664-672. <http://www.psych.yorku.ca/gigi/documents/Gardner_Gardner_1969.pdf>.Greenberg, Joel. “Koko.” Science News 114.16 (1978): 265–270. JSTOR. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3963439>.McGrew, W. C. “New Wine in New Bottles: Prospects and Pitfalls of Cultural Primatology.” Journal of Anthropological Research 63.2 (2007): 167–183. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20371148>.Patterson, Francine. “Review of Savage-Rumbaughs Ape Language: From Conditioned Response to Symbol” Man 22.2 (1987): 361–362. JSTOR. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2802870?origin=JSTOR-pdf>.Premack, David. “Human and Animal Cognition: Continuity and Discontinuity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104.35 (2007): 13861– 13867. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/25436587.pdf>.Premack, David. “Is Language the Key to Human Intelligence?” Science 303.5656 (2004): 318– 320. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3835976.pdf>.Premack, David. "Language in chimpanzees." Science 172 (1971): 808-822. <http://karen.stanley.people.cpcc.edu/docs%20for%20EFL%20074/Animal %20Communication%20rev.doc>.Rodman, P. S. “Whither Primatology? The Place of Primates in Contemporary Anthropology.” Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1999): 311–339. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/223397>.Savage-Rumbaugh, E. Sue et al. “The Capacity of Animals to Acquire Language: Do Species Differences Have Anything to Say to Us?” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 308.1135 (1985): 177–185. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2396292>.Savage-Rumbaugh, E. Sue, and Duane M. Rumbaugh. “Ape Language Research Is Alive and Well: A Reply.” Anthropos 77.3/4 (1982): 568–573. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40460489.>.