Dwight Bollinger’S "The Origin Of Language”

Essay Question

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.

Word Count: 297

Related Essays on Language