What are chimpanzees telling us about language?

  • Dwyer D
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The divergent views expressed in the literature on the linguistic competence of chimpanzees is due in large part to the lack of a common framework in which.to compare human and chimpanzee signing. Working for the most part within a Saussurian semiological framework, several distinct `tactic' sign types, including: ataxis, lexical parataxis and syntax, are introduced for the purpose of comparison. These types are then illustrated through the ontological development of human signing behavior. Next, the data on the signing behavior of chimpanzees, both wild and captive, are analyzed with the conclusion that, while chimpanzees do show evidence of true semiological communication, their tactic ability does not appear to exceed that of lexical parataxis. This conclusion draws attention to the significance of the difference between syntax and lexical parataxis which in turn tells us something more about the nature of human language. © 1986.

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  • David Dwyer

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