Linguistic competency of bonobos (Pan paniscus) raised in a language-enriched environment

Rabinowitz, Andrea
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The present study expanded upon the ongoing research of bonobos (Pan paniscus) raised in a language-enriched environment at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative. The study subjects, Kanzi, Nyota, Elikya, Maisha, and Teco, display varying degrees of research participation and experience with spoken English and written lexigram symbols. While Kanzi’s linguistic and cognitive capabilities have been well documented in his early life, this project evaluated a subset of his current vocabulary. A series of three computerized match-to-sample tasks tested his ability to match a picture to spoken English, lexigram to spoken English, and picture to lexigram symbol for 120 words commonly encountered in his daily life. Kanzi displayed a greater comprehension of spoken English words than their associated lexigrams, although his overall average score was higher than expected for the majority of tested words. Results also revealed that his understanding of individual words was dependent on input modality. An assessment of multiple communication methods used by Kanzi provides data on the receptive capacities of an ape who plays an important role in the study of language development and ape language research. As the remaining four bonobos had limited previous experience in language and experimental research, I developed several training protocols to include them in future studies. By examining potential effects of rearing, environment, and motivation on their testing performance, this project will serve as a foundation for further research on the linguistic abilities of nonhuman primates.