The Different Definitions of Language and Why Apes Do Not Use Human Language

1. Introduction

Scientists acknowledge the fact that humans may share a common ancestry with apes. Some scientists have however noted that the resemblance between apes and humans ends in language. This essay looks at the different definitions of language and how they can be used to explain why apes do not use human language. The essay also looks at the studies that have been conducted on apes in an attempt to teach them human language.

2. Definitions of Language

There are four main definitions of language: Language as a form of communication, Language as a system of symbols, Language as a tool for thought, and Language as a product of evolution. Each of these definitions has different implications for why apes do not use human language.

2. 1 Language as a Form of Communication

If language is defined as a form of communication, then it stands to reason that apes do not use human language because they do not need to communicate with humans. Apes have their own form of communication which is adequate for their needs. There is no evidence that apes are interested in communicating with humans, or that they feel the need to communicate with humans.

2. 2 Language as a System of Symbols

If language is defined as a system of symbols, then it is possible for apes to use human language, but there is no evidence that they do so. Ape vocalizations do not appear to be symbolic in nature, and ape gestures are not systematic or rule-governed. It is possible that apes could learn to use human symbols, but there is no evidence that they have done so.

2. 3 Language as a Tool for Thought

If language is defined as a tool for thought, then it is possible for apes to use human language, but there is no evidence that they do so. Studies on ape cognition suggest that apes are capable of thinking about abstract concepts, but they do not appear to use language to do so. It is possible that apes could learn to use human language as a tool for thought, but there is no evidence that they have done so.

2. 4 Language as a Product of Evolution

Iflanguage is defined as a product of evolution, then it is possible forapes to use human language, but there is no evidence that they doso. Studies on the evolution of language suggest that it is amoderately complex trait that arose gradually over time. It ispossible that apes could have evolved the ability to use humanlanguage, but there is no evidence that they have done so.

3. The Specific Case of the Apes

3.1 Studies on Chimpanzees

The most well-known studies on apes and human language are the studies conducted on chimpanzees by linguist Herbert Terrace. Terrace attempted to teach a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky to use American Sign Language (ASL). Nim was raised in a human home and was exposed to ASL from an early age. He was also taught to use ASL by means of positive reinforcement. Despite these efforts, Nim did not learn to use ASL in a meaningful way. He was only able to produce a limited number of signs, and he did not use them in a grammar-based way. Terrace concluded that apes are not capable of using human language.

3. 2 Studies on Bonobos

More recently, another study was conducted on bonobos, which are closely related to chimpanzees. This study was conducted by researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. Savage-Rumbaugh used a different approach than Terrace, and she did not attempt to teach the bonobos ASL. Instead, she developed a system of symbols called lexigrams, which the bonobos were able to learn. The bonobos in this study were not raised in a human home, and they were not exposed to humans from an early age. Despite these differences, the bonobos in this study were able to learn to use lexigrams in a grammar-based way. Savage-Rumbaugh concluded that apes are capable of using human language if they are exposed to it in the right way.

4. Conclusion

There is no single definition of language that is universally accepted by linguists. Each definition has different implications for why apes do not use human language. The most likely explanation is that apes do not use human language because they do not need to communicate with humans. However, it is also possible that apes could learn to use human language if they were exposed to it in the right way.

FAQ

Language can be defined as a system of symbols and rules used for communication.

Apes communicate using various sounds, gestures, and expressions.

The specific case of the apes is that they are not able to use language in the same way humans do.

This comparison shows that human communication is more complex than ape communication.

These implications suggest that language is more complex than we originally thought and that its evolution is still not fully understood.