Answers The Statement The Only True Barrier


Answers The Statement: The Only True Barrier That Sets Us Apart From Animals Is Language. Essay, Research Paper

For thousands of years humans have wrestled with the question of their “human” nature. MOst often they have defined themselves in relation to the animal kingdom, yearning either to take on some of the superior attributes of other animals or to rise above their own animal nature by becoming angelic. And thus they define themselves as a special sort of unique creation. Our magnificent and intricate minds have given human kind the gift of specialized speech and communication, which we call language. And this brings us the question, is language the only true barrier that sets us apart from animals?

Language is more than verbal communication, but defining precisely when animals are exhibiting that “something more” is a source of debate. What seems to set human language apart from the gestures, grunts, chirps, whistles, or cries of otheg animals is grammar-a formal set of rules for combining words. Using the rules of grammar, people can take a relatively small number of words and create an almost infinite number of uniques sentences. People can learn to apply the rules of grammar-but can animals?

THere have been several attempts to teach human-like languages to members of other species, none has teached a level of conberstional ability that would answer this question directly. A great deal of language-related work has been done with parrots and dolphins. Dolphins have been especially helpful because of their complex communication system and large brains. Furthermore, such approaches are generally focused to those animals most like us, particularly the great apes.

Because of the maturity of Chimpanzees and gorillas, they have been the most popular targets of study. They are estimated to have the intelligence or two- or three-year-old children, who are usually well on their way to learning language. The study of gorilla learning sheds light on the important connection between gorillas and their sibling species, Homo sapiens. This next information is based on gathered information from Koko the gorilla’s personal website and found that Project Koko has contributed to the study of the evolution and development of human communication.

THe well-known gorilla, Koko, has been a case study of her intellectual, physical and linguistic development since her infancy. Koko, a female lowland gorilla born in 1971, uses American Sign Language and understands spoken English. Koko’s participation in the study began when she was one year old.

THe study is known as The Gorilla Language Project, which is both an effort to gather data about gorilla language and a case study of observed gorilla behavior and utterances. All signs, the context in which they occured, the number of repetitions, and anything unusual that might have occurred during signing are recorded daily. THe project administers informal and formal tests of vocabulary comprehension and of the understanding of relationships between objects and words, as well as standard child intelligence tests.

During the course of the study, Koko has advanced further with language than any other non-himan. Koko has a working vocabulary of over 1,000 signs. Koko understands approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. Koko initiates the majority of conversations with her human companions and typically constructs statements averaging three to six words. Koko has a tested IQ of between 60 and 95 on a human scale, where 100 is considered “normal” (Koko’s World 2000).

In light of Koko’s case, we have seen signs that indicate the language barrier between humans and animals possibly being broken. However, the majority of studies like that of Koko challenge whether human language is the final barrier separating us from animals. Evidence has shown that in most cases sentences always seem to be very short. Many times two or three gestures seem to be combined. But there are never connecting words that convey more sophisticated messages or the ability to apply rules of grammar. For instance, a chimp may see a person holding a banana. The chimp uses sign language to sign its own name and signs for the banana. The researcher may think that the chimp wants the banans, but in fact it may also mean that the banana belongs to the chimp. Many of the apes’ sentences are requests for food, tickling, baths, pets, and other pleasurable objects and experiences. Much like the requests of a family dog or cat, which learns simple commands. Other researchers also concluded that chimps are not naturally predisposed to associate seen objects with heard words, as human infants are.

The question of language among animals and humans is still highly debated, even in the case of our sophisticated mammalian cousins. Two things are clear, however. First, whatever the chimp, gorilla, or dolphin have learned is a much more primitive and limited form of communication than that learned by human children. Second, their level of communication from a human point of view does not do justice to their overall intelligence; that is, these animal are smarter than their “language” production suggests. Under the right circumstances, and with the right tools, animals can master many language-like skills, but humans remain unique in their ability to use language.

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