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50 Years of Language Experiments with Great Apes

Igor Hanzel

The book approaches the language experiments with great apes performed in the last 50 years from the point of view of logical semantics, speech act theory, and philosophy of the social sciences based on the linguistic turn in philosophy. The author reconstructs the experiments with the great apes Washoe, Chantek, Lana, Sherman, Austin, Kanzi, Sarah and Sheba who were taught various kinds of languages, including the language of mathematics. From the point of view of the philosophy of science these experiments are interpreted as being part of the social sciences. The book proposes new mathematical experiments that are based on modern semantical reconstruction of the language of mathematics. The author shows that modern scientific research into great apes has shifted from natural science to social science.

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7. Methods of Research into Language Capabilities of Great Apes


7. Methods of Research into Language Capabilities of Great Apes

I will approach the methods employed in language experiments with great apes from two points of view. First, from the point of view of a general method indicating that these experiments involve a combination of the method of understanding in the sense of understanding the meaning of communicative acts with the method of pursuing non-communicative strategic research aims. The second point of view will allow me to solve the problem of choosing anthropocentric criteria for the construction of a language taught to great apes.

The general method employed in all three language projects stands for the human experimenters’ and great apes’ grasping of the meaning of utterances produced in their mutual communicative encounters and, where the human experimenter’s grasping is unified with his or her focusing, with respect to his communicative counterpart, on a strategic – that is, a noncommunicative – aim.37

What these two aspects of the general method stand for in detail can be understood if we turn to the encounter described earlier in which Tim (Gill) put a cabbage into the vending machine and uttered the declarative sentence “CHOW IN MACHINE”. On the one hand, an exchange of communicative acts took place between Tim and Lana. Here the issue at stake faced by both was to understand what the communicative counterpart stated. This required from both an understanding of the intensions (denotata) of the expression used by the counterpart and in this case...

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