PY2 Gardner 2013 Essay example

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Gardner and Gardner (1969) “Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee”

PY2 Section A Q1: Summarise the aims and context of Gardner and Gardner’s (1969) research ‘Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee’ [12].

Historically, it has been argued that one of the main things that make humans different from animals is our ability to talk. While most animals communicate it is argued that only humans have language. Dogs for example communicate using a variety of physical cues, body language and barks. However, it would not be appropriate to call it language.

Charles Hockett (1960) created the ‘Design features of Language’. A few features are:
Interchangability: the ability to both send and receive messages
Displacement: communication about things not currently present
Learning and transmission: the acquisition of a language and its transference to the next generation.

He proposed that animal and human communications had some similarities, but also some differences. E.g. honeybees communicate with other bees using a ‘waggle dance’ to inform them of the location of pollen, water and nectar. Hockett argued that although the honeybees were demonstrating some of his features of language (e.g. displacement) they did not contain them all.

Chomsky (1957) argued that we have a special part of the brain (the language acquisition device, or LAD) that means we are biologically programmed to acquire language. This explains why human cultures all over the world have language, and why children acquire it so rapidly. According to this view, other animals should not be able to acquire language.

However, a number of researchers have tried to demonstrate that in fact some animals can acquire human language, which would challenge this idea. Hayes & Hayes (1951) worked with a chimpanzee called Vicki to teach her to produce a vocal language, however after 6 years she was only able to make four sounds– mama, papa, cup and up.

Bryan (1963) states that the vocal apparatus of the chimpanzee is very different to that of humans. Vocalization tends to occur in situations of high stress or excitement, when undisturbed chimpanzees are normally silent. Gardner & Gardener therefore concluded that a vocal language was not appropriate for this species.

Yerkes (1943) found that laboratory chimpanzees are capable of spontaneously using their hands to help solve problems. Therefore while oral language may not be appropriate, they may be well suited to learning sign language.

Aims: To investigate whether they could teach a chimpanzee to communicate using a human language, specifically American Sign Language (ASL). Their intention was to raise the chimpanzee in the same way that a child is raised so that language would be acquired naturally.

They decided to use a chimpanzee because the species is highly intelligent, very sociable and known for its strong attachments. Sociability is especially important because it is a prime motivator in the development of language.

PY2 Section A Q2: Outline the procedures of Gardner and Gardner’s (1969) research ‘Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee’ [12].

1. Participants: There was only one participant in this study; a female chimpanzee named Washoe. She was a wild-caught infant chimp who was approximately 8-14 months old when she arrived at the Gardner’s lab (chimpanzees are completely dependent until the age of about 2).

2. Method: Case study with some observations

3. During the first few months, the focus of the research was on building a daily routine and relationships between Washoe and her several human ‘companions’ who cared for Washoe in shifts.

4. The Gardners reasoned that Washoe would only be able to learn language if she interacted with others in the same way that a child does. Therefore, during her waking hours, Washoe was always with at least one of her companions. Her human companions were to be friends and playmates, and they were to introduce games and activities that were likely result in