Review of 'Kanzi: Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind' by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh & Roger Lewin
Pearce (E.K. Victor)
Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 7.2 (October 1995)
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Kanzi is a chimpanzee upon whom experiments were conducted to find to what extent an ape could learn language. A computer keyboard was made with symbols relating to foods which could be obtained by pressing the appropriate key.
  2. When Kanzi was young, a keyboard of eight rows with 16 symbols in each row, was given to him to use. At the age of five, 64 more symbols were given to learn.
  3. 'Not only was Kanzi using the keyboard as a means of communicating, he also knew what the symbols meant. One of the first things he did that morning was to activate the word ‘apple', then 'chase'. He then picked up an apple, looked at me, and ran away with a playful grin on his face. Also, he went to select those foods he had indicated on the keyboard.'
  4. Kanzi formed spontaneous utterances such as 'Matata (his foster-mother's name) group room tickle', to ask that his mother be permitted to join in a game of tickle in the group room.
  5. We must not be misled, however, by the author's use of the word 'utterances.' Apparently, it does not refer to vocal sounds by Kanzi, but to the symbols that he taps out on the keyboard. Indeed, the authors find that the ape does not possess the articulatory organs required to make words. They explain that the ape does not possess the human larynx. To make words, an ape needs to be able to voice consonants in order to break up the vowel sounds into words. The authors contrast this lack of facility with homo sapiens. It is significant that even the human baby does not have the larynx in position for speech at first. This development comes only when the baby is weaned, the reason being that, when the baby is feeding at the breast, it needs to breathe and suck at the same time without choking. When weaned, the larynx descends to the same level as the throat so that the breath can also be used for speech.
  6. The tube for transporting air is the windpipe or trachea, and the tube for transporting food and drink is the oesophagus. Most animals are safeguarded from choking because these channels are separate throughout life, so they cannot redirect breath through the larynx for speech. This means that any animal may have more understanding of human words than it is able to articulate itself. Darwin refers to the dog as an example, which understands the words and whistle signs as illustrated in sheep dog trials, but can only bark or whine.
  7. My own question is, why test apes when greater intelligence1 is found in some other animals? Experiments with sea mammals such as the dolphin and white whale, find that they have a wide range of grasp of human words. Moreover, they are equipped with very elaborate articulatory organs associated with that bulge over their snout, and quite different from human organs. These produce a wide variation of click sounds which convey detailed communication to other dolphins.
  8. The reason then for choosing an ape for experiment rather than any other animal, is expressed by the authors.
  9. 'The capacity for language comprehension in Kanzi's brain, one-third of the size of the modern human brain, has implications for the nature of the human ancestral mind of two or three million years ago which are stunning.'
  10. Such a statement ignores the widely held conclusions of anthropologists over the last 30 years, that the human species is not directly descended from the apes. The homos are specialised in many ways which indicates that they must have a separate line of descent from a common ancestor fifteen million years ago, so the authors' reference to 'two or three million years' of non-ancestral apes is not 'so stunning.'
  11. In Chapter 9 the authors consider the origin of language. Did language and manipulative skills evolve together? If so, does this mean that artifact production promoted language acquisition?
  12. The general tool succession is as follows:
  13. The simple Oldowan core-tool made by hammering off only two chips to make a point; then the Acheulian hand-axe made by chipping off 14 or 15 flakes, then the Mousterian twisted ovates requiring greater skill. Then the Upper Palaeolithic blade tools, followed by skilfully made tools by pressure flaking. As an anthropologist, I would answer No. We find that developing tool skills does not seem to be related to brain size, but rather to the stage of culture development. For example, the Swanscombe skull was similar in capacity to modern man, yet the tools associated with it were the primitive Acheulian.
  14. The fossil classifications more or less related to this cultural succession are the australopithicines, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens.
  15. To be realistic, Wernick and Broca demonstrate that the brain has coordinating speech areas. They are the upper back left temporal lobe and the lower back left frontal lobe. These speech areas of the brain hemisphere have characteristics resembling a built-in package for speech.
  16. The highly constructed declensions and syntax of modern language do not appear to have arisen from grunts and growls. A history of language indicates that they get simpler rather than more complex in later races2. The older languages are, the more complex they are in their structure, whereas modern English has lost much of the concise structure of Greek or Latin. The veryold languages among primitive tribes have an even more complex and exact structure.
  17. This record of experiments makes interesting reading, but as mankind alone is equipped with the organs of speech, it emphasises the chasm between man and all the animal world.
  18. Prebendary E. K. Victor Pearce is Director of 'Evidence for Truth', and an anthropologist.

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