Putting apes (body and language) together again

  • Cowley S
  • Spurrett D
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It is argued that the account of Savage-Rumbaugh's ape language research in Savage-Rumbaugh, Shanker and Taylor (1998. Apes, Language and the Human Mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford) is profitably read in the terms of the theoretical perspective developed in Clark (1997. Being There, Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA). The former work details some striking results concerning chimpanzee and bonobo subjects, trained to make use of keyboards containing 'lexigram' symbols. The authors, though, make heavy going of a critique of what they take to be standard approaches to understanding language and cognition in animals, and fail to offer a worthwhile theoretical position from which to make sense of their own data. It is suggested that the achievements of Savage-Rumbaugh's non-human subjects suggest that language ability need not be explained by reference to specialised brain capacities. The contribution made by Clark's work is to show the range of ways in which cognition exploits bodily and environmental resources. This model of 'distributed' cognition helps makes sense of the lexigram activity of Savage-Rumbaugh's subjects, and points to a re-evaluation of the language behaviour of humans. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ape language
  • Distributed cognition
  • Language development

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  • Stephen Cowley

  • David Spurrett

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