Thursday, May 31, 2007

Two-Way Street 

1.) In Des Moines, Iowa, apes are learning to talk like humans:
The residents of the Great Ape Trust are part of groundbreaking language research where the apes are being taught to communicate with humans by pressing 350 lexigrams -- symbols that appear on a screen and represent thoughts and objects.

The superstar is 26-year-old Kanzi, whom Bill Fields has been working with for years. To communicate, Fields speaks to Kanzi, who then points to the lexigrams to respond and demonstrate a level of understanding.

"Qualitatively, there is no difference between Kanzi's language and my language," Fields said. "It's a matter of degree."

The key to ensuring they grasp the language, the researchers said, is to start teaching them when they are young, just like you would with human babies.

"Language is culturally acquired. Its not learned," said Fields. "It's acquired in the immediate postnatal antogyny of the organisms life. The only organism capable of learning language are babies."

They've been communicating with bonobos through the keyboard for almost three years, relying on a technique developed in 1971 and also used at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University and other facilities.

At the Great Ape Trust, researchers said the apes would likely never be able to vocalize words like humans; they are limited by the range of their vocal chords among other things.

However, Fields swears he has heard Kanzi try to say "thank you."
2.) In Washington, D.C., humans are learning to talk like apes:
But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."
(Link courtesy of Zembla's foremost bonobo expert, the redoubtable K.Z., who has asked us to send out a little dedication to Sen. Sam Brownback.)

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