To: primate-talk@primate.wisc.edu

(from newtrogs@ionet.net [ Bob and/or Belle Ball Ingersoll ])

Here are a few  comments and questions regarding Washoe and her display of 
"teaching" behavior or her ability to "teach" her infant sign based on my 
experience with her. Several things should be made clear here. 
Unless she has had a baby since she left Oklahoma, the last baby that she 
was with left Oklahoma  with her and was almost one year old when she left.  

That infant would now be over 10, hardly an infant.That infant was named
Loulis and he was acquired from Yerkes after Washoe's baby died (see
Silent Partners for an account).When Washoe was in Oklahoma I was
fortunate to be around during the time when Washoe was pregnant, on 2
occasions. Washoe has had, I believe, only 3 births. The first 2 infants
were stillborn. Her third, Sequoyah, was born and lived for about one
month. I believe that there exists a diary of data taken during the time
that Sequoyah was alive, however, I have not seen this mentioned in the
literature. Perhaps someone has a copy of it still. The second baby was
born not long after I became a "chimp person," and during this time Washoe
actually assigned a name sign to me. This is what happened.  I was
observing Washoe during a late evening during her second pregnancy.  She
was lying down on a bench in her cage, mostly resting but occasionally
signing to me. I would respond when I knew what she was saying (I was new
to signing and Washoe appeared to know that) During this interaction
Washoe asked me "Name you"? and at that time I did not have a name sign so
I shrugged my shoulders and signed "can't, "no"  "name" "sign"  then told
her verbally what my name was, "Bob, Bob."  She then looked at me and
signed "Name you" and made this sign:  The first two fingers of the right
hand extended from the fist (like the boy scout hand signal), pulling the
two fingers across the brow ridge.  I later found out this is also the
sign for black.  Washoe never called me anything else after that, And from
that point on when Washoe was asked my name or when it came up she always
signed that sign. It's to bad that this was not caught on video as with
most chimp signing, without hard evidence, we are reduced to stories like
the one I just told. 

 Anyway, back to the baby. As far as 
teaching her baby directly like a teacher to a student I only observed one 
incident that might be considered teaching. After the death of Sequoyah, her 
biological son, another infant slightly older was placed with Washoe.  His 
name was Loulis, and he came from Yerkes. His name is a combination of the 
names of two Yerkes employees.  Shortly after Loulis was placed with Washoe, 
there was an incident in which Washoe and Loulis were sitting across from 
one another. Both were very agitated, and at one point Washoe looked at and 
got Loulis's attention, then she signed "Hug" "Hug" "Hug" to Loulis, who 
then approached and jumped into the arms of Washoe. Several observers saw 
this and it was quite clear what had happened. Was this teaching? I don't 
know. That was the only time I know of where Washoe did what might be 
considered teaching.

  You must remember now that we could not sign to Washoe 
in the presence of  the baby.  That included prompting her to sign. What we 
had hoped was that Washoe would exibit some behavior that would look like 
teaching, ie. molding, like she was taught.  If she did not sign directly to 
the infant we hoped that his being around her and her constantly signing 
(immersion), that he would pick sign up simply by observation. In order to 
facilitate this, the chimp Ally (the reported father of Sequoyah) was placed 
in the cage adjacent to Washoe and Loulis in hopes that Washoe and Ally 
would sign together, thus increasing the amount of sign that the baby was 
exposed to. Before Sequoyah was born we would sit with Washoe and Ally and 
sign with them in order to  create a better signing environment, thus 
creating more sign between Ally and Washoe when the baby came. We theorized 
that if Washoe and Ally were at a high level of both proficiency and output 
of sign, the infant would see more signing.  The original grant submission 
talked about the three chimps, Ally, Washoe and infant as a family.  When 
Sequoyah died and Washoe was first moved from IPS to the OU campus and then 
to  Washington, Ally remained at IPS.  I do not know why Ally was excluded 
at that point.  He remained behind, later was moved to LEMSIP, back to OU, 
and eventually became 
lost.(see Primate Talk, March 15, 1995 and Silent Partners by Eugene 
Linden). 

  I understand and have read that Loulis uses many signs. Loulis 
may have learned those from Washoe in the traditional teacher-student 
relationship. However, I believe that it is much more likely that a signing 
context and the constant use of sign is  more important than Washoe or any 
other signing chimp actually "teaching" another chimp to sign.  After all, 
most human mothers don't actually teach babies, they immerse them in the 
language environment. In the wild I don't believe that you could say that 
for example the chimps that break the nuts with an anvil and stone are 
actually taught how to do that, they observe it and then start practicing 
until they are proficient at it. If language is made important in daily life 
it is usually picked up quickly by chimps in my experiance. If Washoe has 
exhibited more "teaching" behavior,  I haven't seen any video or other hard 
evidence to indicate that.  If that information is available, could someone 
make me aware of it, please? 

 I would be the first to admit that it is possible that Washoe may have
actually taught some sign to her infant, however, I believe it is far more
likely that her infant learned sign because he was immersed in the signing
envirorment. The chimps' ability to use and understand sign is not
diminished to me because they did not learn it in a school-like setting. 
I would not expect that anyway.  It is just as interesting to note that
even though there is no evidence to speak of to indicate teaching, most
chimps exposed to sign language pick some of it up.  Many of the adult
chimpanzees at the IPS, even though they did not participate directly in
sign studies, somehow acquired sign.  As you would expect the signs the
non-signing chimps acquired included the sign for food and drink, also the
sign for hurry and for come gimme.  That is not unexpected, for Washoe
lived in the same colony for many years with some of the chimps that ended
up at Lemsip.  I understand that several of them still sign at that lab. I
believe that all chimps have the capacity to learn at least some sign. I
hope this gives you some insight into what actually happens with signing
chimpanzees. Feel free to contact me directly for further info, or
comments if you like.  Bob Ingersoll