Savage-Rumbaugh 1986

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Savage-Rumbaugh, S., MacDonald, K., Sevcik, R. A., Hopkins, W. D. and Rubert, E. (1986) Spontaneous symbol acquisition and communication use by pygmy chimpanzees (Pan paniscus)

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Savage-Rumbaugh 1986
1 Background
1.1 Associative symbol learning occurs when an individual learns to associate specific symbols with specific objects, for example naming pictures in a book.
1.2 It has been demonstrated that a more sophisticated type of learning can appear when chimps are systematically taught how to request, label and comprehend objects.
2 Evaluation
2.1 Strengths
2.1.1 Longitudinal- allows in depth data to be collected about development over time. For example, utterances made by Kanzi was documented over a 17 month period.
2.1.2 Data was gathered under rigorous controls (e.g. the formal tests) and is therefore are less likely to be open to bias and subjectivity. This improves reliability and validity.
2.1.3 Triangulation- Both qualitative and quantitative data was gathered which improves the richness of the study and allows for analysis and comparison.
2.2 Weaknesses
2.2.1 Ecological validity is low as the subjects were not reared in their natural environment.
2.2.2 Ethical issues- it could be considered unethical and unnecessary to remove chimpanzees from the wild and study them in a human environment and to test their language skills in a formal way.
3 Results/Findings
3.1 Kanzi and Mulika spontaneously began to use gestures to communicate between 6-16 months, it took Sherman and Austin between 2-4yrs.
3.2 Kanzi and Mulika’s gestures were more explicit than Austin and Sherman's.
3.3 Kanzi and Mulika did well on formal tests from the beginning - Austin and Sherman became confused, so they had to slow down the process.
3.4 Kanzi and Mulika had a better understanding of spoken language, used the lexigram spontaneously and could distinguish between categories and refer to requests involving others.
3.5 Kanzi's recognition of symbols preceded his production of them for 63% of the words in his vocabulary. More than 80% of Kanzi's utterances were spontaneous, with only 11% being imitated or prompted.
3.6 Kanzi produced 2,540 combinations within 17 months, 764 of which were unique.
3.6.1 This was 6% of his total utterances. All of his three word utterances were to instruct someone else (eg Person tickle Kanzi).
3.6.2 36% of the time it was initiated by Kanzi and not imitated.
4 Method
4.1 Aim: to investigate the language acquisition of two pygmy chimpanzees and two common chimpanzees.
4.2 Subjects
4.2.1 Principal subject: a male pygmy chimpanzee called Kanzi aged 30-47 months. Kanzi was born in captivity and assigned at 6 months old with his mother (Matata), a wild caught chimp. Studies suggest that they are a more social species with more developed social skills. This suggests that they may be more able to acquire language. Mulika was Kanzi's younger sister, aged 11-21 months. Both Kanzi and Mulika spent several hours a day with their mother, but they appeared to prefer human company.
4.2.2 Two common chimpanzees were used for comparison: Austin and Sherman. They were assigned at 1.5 and 2.5 years of age. They were removed from their mothers before the study.
4.3 Longitudinal Quazi experiment
4.3.1 IV= Species (bonobo/common)
4.3.2 DV= Language Acquisition
4.4 Procedure
4.4.1 Utterances were recorded in three categories. Spontaneous- without prompting. Imitated- containing words from the researcher's utterance. Structured- in response to a question/request. Lexigram: a system of geometric symbols. Kanzi's was connected to a speech synthesiser which speaks the words when the symbols are touched. Researchers also used ASL (American Sign Language) gestures to accompany the lexigrams. Approximately 100 ASL gestures were used by the experimenters. None of the experimenters were fluent in ASL.
4.4.2 Kanzi and Mulika were tested by 4 tests: Photograph to lexigram/ Spoken English to photograph/ Spoken English to lexigram /Synthesised speech to lexigram
5 Conclusions
5.1 Pygmy chimps can learn in a very similar way to humans but the language may not be uniquely human.
5.1.1 Similar to children: taught by parents and teachers/trainers. Observations- symbols and images from picture books, etc.
5.2 Showed that pygmy chimps have the ability to acquire symbol use to a greater extent than other species of apes.

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