Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication (TiCC)

We study how people communicate with each other and how computer systems can be taught to communicate with us.

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TiCC Colloquium: Marcus Perlman

What: What Can an Enculturated Gorilla Teach Us about the Evolution of Language?
Where: CZ 8
When: Wednesday, 14 June 2017, 12:45 - 13:45 hours


Abstract

A complete theory of language evolution requires that we understand the communication-related capabilities of our closest relatives, the great apes. In addition to their "natural" behavior, it is important to examine their potential when reared in environments with human enculturation. In this talk, I will present research on Koko, a female gorilla who was the subject of an intensive, longitudinal effort to teach her a sign language (see Patterson, 1978). I will show video and analysis demonstrating 1) Koko's ability to use iconic and indexical gestures to communicate with human caregivers, and 2) her ability to flexibly control her vocal tract to perform culturally significant actions like "talking" (grunting) on the telephone, blowing her nose into a tissue, and huffing on the lenses of eyeglasses (as if to clean them). The case of Koko has important implications for understanding the linguistic potential of our last common ancestor with great apes. Koko's abilities suggest that this early hominin would have had some rudimentary capacity for open-ended, flexible communication with iconic and indexical gestures, which may even have extended to gestures produced by the vocal tract.

About Marcus Perlman

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When: 14 June 2017 12:45

End date: 14 June 2017 13:45