General information and commentary on the issues ( revised 4-04) BUT before you move on to apes, ask yourself: What is human language? What are its functions? What are the descriptive facts of human language acquisition by humans. Equipped with even cursory answers to these basic questions, you can proceed to the question of non-human use of human-based language codes.

Ask yourself how different is an enculturated ape's use of human language from that of an exceptional dog like Fellow or parrot like Alex?

(And speaking of exceptional, what is the variability in apes performance? One of the remarkable facts of human language acquisition, is that it is very uniform across a wide range of children and experiences. This may reflect the much less genetic variability of humans in contrast to other large primates.)

Finally what we can begin to speculate on what kind of genetic changes might have occurred to evolve language in concert with evolving culture. (See recent reports in News and the old Limber, 1982 ).

Here are some additional comments and resources.

  1. Koko on-line transcript, 4/30/98 (caveat emptor)

  2. Interview with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh re: Kanzi (April 14, 1998)
  3. Goldin-Meadow, S. (1996). Book review of Kanzi: The ape at the brink of the human mind by Savage-Rumbaugh, S. & Lewin, R. International Journal of Primatology, 17, 145-148.

  4. Kanzi on Nova:The transcript
  5. book review of "Kanzi" in Sci. American, June, 1995.

  6. Seeking the language gene!
  7. Limber's Thoughts on Kanzi--anything new? How much "better" than Alex or Fellow?
  8. Descartes view from the 17th century
  9. Language of a two year old human
  10. Interspecies communication?
  11. Primate similarities: gorillas, chimps, bonobos, humans
  12. recent NY Times article on ape "language"(6/6/95)

Personal testimony about ape-language abilities from Primate-Talk
  1. Washoe and others
  2. apes "teaching" signs?


Limber, J. (1973). The genesis of complex sentences. In T. Moore (Ed.), Cognitive Development and the Acquisition of Language (pp. 169-186). New York: Academic Press.

Limber, J. (1977). Language in child and chimp? American Psychologist, 32, 280-295 (Reprinted in Sebeok, T. & Sebeok, J. (Eds.) (1980). Speaking of Apes (pp.1197-1218). New York: Plenum Press.)

Limber, J. (1982). What can chimps tell us about the origins of language. In S. Kuczaj (Ed.), Language Development: Volume 2 (pp. 429-446). Hillsdale, NJ: L. E. Erlbaum.