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Current primate research has yielded stunning results that not only threaten our underlying assumptions about the cognitive and communicative abilities of nonhuman primates, but also bring into question what it means to be human. At the forefront of this research, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh recently has achieved a scientific breakthrough of impressive proportions. Her work with Kanzi, a laboratory-reared bonobo, has led to Kanzi's acquisition of linguistic and cognitive skills similar to those of a two and a half year-old human child.
Apes, Language, and the Human Mind skillfully combines a fascinating narrative of the Kanzi research with incisive critical analysis of the research's broader linguistic, psychological, and anthropological implications. The first part of the book provides a detailed, personal account of Kanzi's infancy, youth, and upbringing, while the second part addresses the theoretical, conceptual, and methodological issues raised by the Kanzi research. The authors discuss the challenge to the foundations of modern cognitive science presented by the Kanzi research; the methods by which we represent and evaluate the abilities of both primates and humans; and the implications which ape language research has for the study of the evolution of human language. Sure to be controversial, this exciting new volume offers a radical revision of the sciences of language and mind, and will be important reading for all those working in the fields of primatology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy of mind, and cognitive and developmental psychology.
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Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is at Georgia State University. Stuart G. Shanker is at York University, Toronto.From Scientific American:
Kanzi, a male bonobo (an ape sometimes called a pygmy chimpanzee), has been under the care of language researcher Savage-Rumbaugh since infancy. Over a period of 18 years, he has learned to communicate his wants and to respond to spoken English by means of pictorial symbols called lexigrams. His communicative capability is about equal to that of a two-and-a-half-year-old human child. The first third of the book presents Savage-Rumbaugh's clear and entertaining account of Kanzi's upbringing. The remainder, largely written by the other two authors, is an argument in academic prose addressed primarily to critics who "insist that no ape has ever developed truly linguistic skills." The authors declare their "shared belief that the Kanzi research presents a serious and effective challenge not only to scientific thinking about the cognitive and communicational capacities of nonhuman primates, but also to received knowledge concerning the possession of those capacities by humans."
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