Bonobos can do some really awesome things!

Posted: November 7, 2009 in evolution, linguistics
Tags: , , , , ,

Like the ones shown in this TED talk by Sue Savage-Rimbaugh:

The important thing to remember, though, is that what SSR refers to as “language” is not really a language as we understand it.  Having a language means, ideally, that you can (at least potentially) communicate everything you want to. Learning to associate individual sings with places or things is a completely different matter. It’s like memorizing the meanings of a bunch of traffic signs  as opposed to learning the language in its entirety.

Further proof that the bonobos don’t communicate with SSR in what we call “language” is that they don’t create new meanings, for instance by combining a few of the signs they already know. This is an important part of language acquisition in humans: a human child will be able not only to imitate what the adults say, but also creatively recycle the words she already knows into new sentences with new meanings. Can you seriously maintain that anybody who is unable to do that can communicate in a language?

The scenes where bonobos seem to understand directions given in human speech are rather misleading as well. All the activities in which they engage – and I don’t want to spoil anything for those who didn’t watch the video first – are not something they engage in for the first time. In fact, it is explicitly stated that the bonobos learned everything  by observing and imitating humans. This means that the experimenter doesn’t really have to say anything, because when equipped with the tools needed to imitate a certain human behaviour, a curious, not hungry bonobo will most likely do just that. Also, please notice the experimenter’s body language as she asks the bonobo to take her lighter. She might have as well said nothing at all.

But nevertheless, the video is still interesting. Also, while it is necessary to remind and be reminded from time to time that humans are not as special as they like to think, and that other apes may seem uncannily human sometimes, we should not athropomorphize them.

And, while the human ape is just an ape, it was  the human ape who noticed that the giant rock she was standing on moves, and has been for approximately the past 4.54 billion years  in a universe that is approximately 13.7 billion years old.

  1. pillowscrapbook says:

    i wonder what they based the statement on that the bonobo actually recognises itself in the mirror, i wonder if the bonobo can communicate that using the pictographs. i really liked the part when the mother uses the scissors to groom the baby, it looked scary and fascinating :)

    • Yeah, I was afraid she would hurt the kid! Frightening. AND YET SO COOL.

      I’m fairy sure it couldn’t communicate that it can recognise itself in the mirror. It would have to be able to parse the question first.

  2. […] the gay agenda that Wikipedia had to make an entire list of them. And the Bonobos, who are so human-like, heh heh heh, are evil filthy […]

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