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Teaching Language to an Ape

In their book, David and James try to teach their language to a chimpanzee by the name Sarah. They thought that if apes learnt the human language there would be a clarification between the human and the animal language. The main purpose of the research was to understand the brain mechanisms of both human and animals. The Premacks hoped that by their research they could be able to compare the different mechanism for classification for storage, retrieving stimuli and problem solving. For good understanding one must familiarize with the premacks test conditions.

They modified the language to fit Sarah’s information processing by allowing her use gestures, colored stones and written letters to express herself. They did not limit her language to vocalization. They used a naming system that favored Sarah’s already formed communication way. This enabled the Premarks discover more about chimpanzees conceptual world. They went through various steps to teach the chimpanzee language.

The Premacks used different symbols which were of different sizes colour, sizes and shapes to stand for a concept or a speck word. These symbols had metallic backs to enable them stick to a language board which was magnetic. They began by teaching the chimpanzee the concepts she already knew such as social transactions for example to give, which are natural to apes and also in laboratories. The premacks put a banana between Sarah and themselves and let the chimpanzee devour it while watching with affection.

They allowed this to continue for a while, and then introduced another language element which was a pink plastic square. She was required to place the pieces of a plastic on a language board to get a banana. In the beginning stages, Sarah was required to put noun words only on the language board indicating a social transaction up to the time it became a routine. Later instead of using bananas they changed to apples and came up with a blue plastic word in its place.

Sarah was now required to put two words correctly in a vertical sequence on the language board. The trainers thought they needed to put the variable which was” to give” in control to make sure the chimpanzee grasped its meaning. In enabling this trainers replaced give with different verbs such as insert, cut and wash. Wherever the chimpanzee used a verb and a particular object, then that action carried on henceforth. By replacing the verb, and carrying out the combinations, she was able to the different actions that went with different verbs. When recipients were made the chimpanzee was expected to use a three -word sentence. Sarah was required to use the trainers’ names especially by their plastic names.

The researchers did not simplify Sarah’s process. They only continued when Sarah was comfortable with a particular stage .The process of proper word was used as a control to make sure the trainee was truly able to communicate the language freely and not by luck. The trainers noted that this process was working when once Sarah wrote “give apple Gussie” and ape Gussie was given an apple instead of Sarah. Sarah never made the same mistake the mistake again.

Once they were through with nouns and verbs Sarah was ready to move to the next step which was concepts. She leant to classifying objects as being different or same. The chimpanzee was given two similar objects, and was expected to place the plastic word written”same” between them. She was later presented with objects which were different, and was also required to distinguish the items which were not the same. The questionnaires were used as a control measure of teaching the concept of different meaning.

The trainers came up with a plastic for” question mark” and placed it between two objects. The chimpanzee was then expected to use the plastic words for “different” or “same” in place of the interrogative symbols. The trainers learnt that the chimpanzee was able to use what she learnt outside her training. The trainers then came up with a new version to control the interrogative variables. The chimpanzee was introduced to a new situation of missing elements whereby she was expected to restore a construction to the constructions familiar position. In the new element the trainers removed an object from Sarah’s familiar position or removed the element that mapped the chimpanzee’s environment. Through the method, the researchers taught Sarah the concept of answering questions rather than asking them.

By now Sarah had already learnt everything concerning the social exchange concept. Through interrogation she was later able to learn concepts. By learning concepts of “not name of” and “name of” she was able to grasp new words in a direct way which enabled the researchers teach her new nouns. The trainers learnt that the chimpanzee was learning new language when she was able to ask for things using her newly learnt language. Soon she was making giant linguistic steps such as writing sentences, for example “red color of apple” and also learning predicate adjectives. Researchers also observed that she could the difference between “different” and “similar” and that she could learn with objects and use the concept to make linguistic constructions.

Next, she learnt English conditional. For conditional texts, she was given training and was rewarded for carrying out a particular task and not another. The conditional training was done using the following contingent training. The Premacks gave the Chimpanzee a choice between a banana and an apple. When her choice was an apple she was rewarded with a chocolate, and when her choice was a banana she was given the banana. The relations were used in sentences to later on to show her on how to use a name for conditional relation.

After taking several conditional tests, she was tested whereby the original sentence was restructured. This was to make sure that Sarah understood the meaning of a particular conditional in a sentence. At the beginning the trainers reported several mistakes, but went on. The researchers taught the chimpanzee apply various conditionals learnt to other sentences, thus widening her linguistic skills. Sarah was then introduced to much harder tasks which required more attention such as “Mary take red if Sarah takes apple”. To their surprise Sarah performed exceptionally and was not confused.

Sarah’s next step was to learning class linguistic concepts. In doing this trainers used hybrids of plastic and real objects which were arranged in a correct order sentence sequence. The Premarks noted that this did not change Sarah’s progress. They also concluded that Sarah’s ability to learn was the same as that to young children as she was able to combine real objects to spoken words .The researchers began by teaching Sarah shapes, then colors and later sizes.

The trainers made a hypothesis that the chimpanzee could think in a plastic word language, that she also had the ability to store a concept by use of plastic words and also solve a problem using her new language. But they needed more research to prove on that. They also required a prove to find out whether Sarah could represent a word mentally without the presence of an object. The trainers wanted to show that they could be able to teach her a language which would enable her to communicate other ideas not physically present.

At the end of the research, the chimpanzee was able to grasp a simple language code .The researchers used this in support of the idea that there existed a natural language to all animals. Through the research new approaches could be used on people with learning disabilities. The purpose of the research was to show that anyone can learn language using simplistic methods. The researchers hope that people will start teaching language to animals too other than man.

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