I found Dwight Bollinger’s essay entitled “The Origin of Language” to be a very
interesting work. I especially enjoyed the section about the chimpanzees. Although we know
that animals can communicate with one another in their own way, they are limited by the
barriers of fixity of reference and holophrasis. There is no way they could achieve syntax which
means that most animals cannot achieve true language as we define it. It seems that the
chimpanzees involved in the experiments which Bollinger writes about have come very close to
possessing language. Especially impressive is the chimp named Washoe and her sign language
skills. She has managed to learn a complicated language and can communicate with her trainers.
Sadly, Bollinger tells us that it requires such a great deal of time to train the chimps, that they
age and die before they can acquire a more complete language system. I would like to know if
the chimps in the experiments have ever attempted to teach non-trained chimps any of these
skills. If these chimps were taken from the laboratory and allowed to return to their natural
habitat, would they lose these skills that the teachers and trainers have worked so hard to instill?
Are the chimps able to retain the skills without the constant reinforcement by the trainers? The
answer to these questions would help me to decide whether these special chimps have
“language.” As it stands now, with the information I have been given, I would have to conclude
that they have a low level form of language but have not arrived at the standard for true
Chimpanzees are not the only subjects which are being investigated. I have read that
experiments have been going on for years involving the communication levels of dolphins.
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