Professor Donald Broom, of the University of Cambridge’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots.”
Meet N’kisi, a captive bred, hand raised Congo African Gray Parrot. He is 4-1/2 years old, and has been learning “language” for 4 years. He is now one of the world’s top “language-using” animals, with an apparent understanding and appropriate usage of over 700 words. His owner, Aimee, intuitively taught N’kisi as one would a child, by explaining things to him in context. N’kisi was not trained like a performing animal, and does not just mimic or use speech “on cue”. Instead, he has been allowed to develop his own creative relationship to language as a means of self-expression. N’kisi speaks in sentences, showing a grasp of grammar in formulating his own original expressions. He is capable of actual conversations, and has been the feature of many stories.
He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.
One N’kisi-ism was “flied” for “flew”, and another “pretty smell medicine” to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.
When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N’kisi said: “Got a chimp?”
(Author’s note: I hope one day Pepper can meet Jane Goodall!!)
Here is a transcript from one of N’kisi’s conversations:
The conversation that most astonished Aimee Morgana came after she and N’kisi went for a drive in her car:
N’Kisi: “Remember, we went in a car”
Aimee: “Yes! Did you like it?”
N’Kisi: “I like that – wanna go out in the car”
Aimee: “We can’t, wo don’t have a car now”
N’Kisi: “Wanna go in a car right now”
Aimee: “I’m sorry, we can’t right now – maybe we can go again later”
N’kisi: “Why can’t I go in a car now?”
Aimee: “Because we don’t have one”
N’kisi: “Let’s get a car”
Aimee: “No Kisi, we can’t get a car now”
N’kisi: “I want a car”
Aimee: “I’m sorry, baby, not today”
N’kisi: “Hurry up, wanna go in a car. Remember? We were in a car”
Now sadly, his handler Aimee is slightly into some woo-ish subject matter and believes N’kisi to be psychic. (Groan…..). This has resulted in a lot of her legitimate work, in the realm of non-psychic-based language learning and use, to be discounted and looked upon with suspicion. Hence, Alex gets almost all the attention.
Go here for audio clips of N’kisi talking with Aimee!