H.L. Saffer, K.E. Brakke and E.S. Savage-Rumbaugh
Language Research Center, Georgia State University, Decatur, USA
Spontaneous language acquisition and syntax were long thought to be uniquely human traits. Recent research has shown that a bonobo (Pan paniscus) could spontaneously acquire language abilities and use word order rules in his utterances. A long-term co-rearing project with another bonobo as well as a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) was initiated to see if the language skills exhibited were species specific to Pan paniscus. The subjects were raised in a rich environment which was designed to foster language growth. Both subjects acquired language skills, although the bonobo was more proficient.
The lexical and gestural combinations produced by the co-reared bonobo and chimpanzee were investigated. The bonobo used combinations earlier and with more facility than the chimpanzee. Both animals showed a tendency to order their combinations with rules that were similar to those used by another bonobo. For the word order invesitagtion new data had to be taken from old video tapes. The Observer 3.0 system was used to this end and provided data showing that the caretakers of the animals used a different word ordering system than the bonobo and the chimpanzee.