bonobos/perception and more

Fri Apr 25 21:51:21 UTC 1997

Patricia Kilroe writes:
>While this topic is receiving so much attention on this list, I was wondering
>if those familiar with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh's work with bonobos, esp. the
>apparent fact that these apes can comprehend and execute fairly complex
>spoken commands upon first hearing, could comment on the biology of language
>question from the perspective of what SS-R's findings contribute to it.

I know a horse that follows verbal commands.  Dogs learn to do it too,
probably not as complex as what the bonobos do...but, you know, we all
hear in roughly the same frequency range (though of course dogs have an
even wider range) doesn't seem at all surprising to me that human
language would occur in an acoustic range which is easy (the path of
least resistance)...nor does it seem surprising that other animals can
hear the contrasts we use (since our hearing is certainly not exceptional
in the animal world).  What does seem surprising to me is that we as
scientists succeeded in turning the problem on its head...did we imagine
that our auditory system adapted itself specially to the demands of
language?  How could that happen?  BTW, it isn't that I
don't believe we learn the phonetic categories of our language...surely
we "adapt" our auditory systems to the language at hand in that sense.
But, Alex the parrot knows the difference between "pea" and "key"..
and he doesn't just hear the distinctions...he hears them from a great
variety of speakers AND he makes them.
Dianne Patterson

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