The Frontal Cortex

Talking Apes

These bonobos can even invent metaphors…The secret, at least according to Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, head scientist at the Great Ape Trust near Des Moines, is to expose primates to language when they are still infants. Of course, this isn’t the first time talking chimps have threatened to dethrown Chomsky and his Innate Grammar Machine, but these poetic bonobos are pretty persuasive.


  1. #1 Manfred F. Greiffenstein
    July 25, 2006

    Here we go again: Another bold claim that great apes can be taught language. It took years to dispell the myth that chimpanzees like Washoe and Nim Chimsky showed signs of generative grammar. According the Stephen Pinker in “How the Mind Works”, some of researchers associated with “Chimps can learn to sign” were a tad bit aggressive with the data massaging, and for years refused to allow primatologists access to the data. Threats of lawsuits against those who questioned the data is not the sign of a reliable researcher.

    It is not written in stone that Noam Chomsky is right, but there are other ways to scientifically falsify his theory if that’s one’s interest.

  2. #2 Undergrad
    July 29, 2009

    I was scrolling through your archives and came across an interesting spelling error in the last sentence of this post. I’m assuming you knew that the word is spelled “dethrone,” but instead the homophone “dethrown” was activated when you were writing this. I often do the same thing with “write” and “right,” typing one when I meant the other. Even though I clearly understand the difference between the two, apparently I think about these two words aurally rather than semantically.

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