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Boxed About the Ears, Ape Language Research Field Is Still Standing

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Science  02 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5974, pp. 38-39
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5974.38

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A 1979 paper in Science concluded that researchers had been duped by Washoe the chimpanzee, Koko the gorilla, and other "talking" apes: Yes, they could learn words, but none could form a sentence, the authors argued, and all excelled at imitating their teachers. Defenders of the work suffered mounting criticism and even ridicule, and the field sputtered out. Yet today, one bastion of ape language research remains, the Great Ape Trust. Built on 90 hectares outside Des Moines that includes a humanmade lake, the trust has separate, state-of-the-art housing for its bonobos and orangutans that features touch-screen computers, which display symbols, or lexigrams, that the apes use to communicate. In addition to language, researchers from the trust and grad students at nearby Iowa State University also investigate ape behavior and cognition.