Lexical creation by signing apes

Christian Nelson cnelson at comm.umass.edu
Tue May 15 19:14:18 UTC 2001

David Samuels wrote:

> But researchers in non-human primate language capabilities are always chalking
> things up to their subjects' creativity (just like
> anthropologists, I guess). Koko "creates" her own syntax (something
> Savage-Rumbaugh also says about Kanzi); Koko "jokes," says "up" sometimes when
> she means "down"; Koko uses "metaphor," referring to "cat" as "excrement." I
> don't know, maybe, maybe not.

Re: this some folks might want to see Wieder, D.L. (1980). Behavioristic
operationalism and the life-world: Chimpanzees and chimpanzee researchers in
face-to-face interaction. Sociological Inquiry, 50(3/4), 75-103.

> All we have is the researcher's interpretations of what is or isn't going on
> here.

Isn't that all any of us have of eachothers' ability to communicate/use langauge?
(Something that gets underscored when researchers dupe subjects into thinking
they're having a conversation with a person when its really a computer program
capable of processing and producing language--or a simple contraption like light
bulbs for yes or no answers such as what Garfinkel once created.) I'm not saying
that there aren't better and worse interpretations, but what is interesting is the
criteria we generate and apply for deciding what is a better or worse
interpretation. In this regard, the responses on the list have been very

--Christian Nelson

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