Chimps can learn to use human sign language. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Thomas Lersch
Is it possible for apes to speak English like in the new 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' movie ?
In the hit summer blockbuster the ability to speak is just one of the human-like traits that the mutant primates possess, but in the real world we have yet to see any non-human species of primate learn how to talk like we do.
Given that it is possible to teach a chimp how to communicate using sign language, why is it that apes are unable to form words and sentences ? Is it down to a lack of intelligence or are they just physically incapable ?
One notable example of primate communication can be found in the case of a 33-year-old bonobo called Kanzi. Through many years of observing and interacting with humans Kanzi was able to learn how to understand human language sentences and could respond accurately to verbal instructions. His responses, however, were far from human - he couldn't speak the words himself even though he did understand some of them.
The biggest problem is that the vocal chords in non-human ape species operate differently to our own, rendering the recitation of human vocalizations impossible.
On top of this there is also the fact that non-human primates are unable to fully understand the concept of syntax, meaning that while a chimp learning sign language can communicate certain words and phrases it has no concept of forming complex sentences.
So while apes are undeniably remarkable in their ability to communicate with us, a combination of mental and physical limitations mean that the idea of a chimp having a full conversation with you in English is something that must for now remain firmly rooted in the realms of science fiction.
Source: Yahoo! News | Comments (40)