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Can Chimps Talk?

Viewing Ideas

Before Watching

  1. Have students make a list of traits and abilities, other than spoken or written language, that distinguish humans from animals (e.g., emotions, using tools, creativity, desire, humor). As they watch the program, have them cross off the items that are demonstrated by chimpanzees.

  2. The central attributes of language are:

    1. symbolism—signs representing actions and things;

    2. generativity—creative combination of symbols to express new information;

    3. semantics—meaning; and

    4. syntax—ordering of symbols in a consistent rule-guided way.

    Ask the students to watch the behavior of the chimpanzees to collect evidence of each of these attributes.

  3. Discuss the ways in which humans learn language. As the students watch the program, have them identify the environmental factors that contribute to the development of human—chimpanzee communication.

After Watching

  1. How is linguistic creativity defined in this program? Do the chimps demonstrate it? What evidence does the program offer for the existence of symbolism, generativity, syntax, and semantics in chimpanzee communication?

Teacher's Guide
Can Chimps Talk?

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