PY2- Gardner and Gardner, teaching a chimp sign language

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  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 07-05-11 11:56

Gardner and Gardner

Aim and context

It has been suggested thst the one crucial difference that distinguishes humans from animals is that we have language. Humans have a special part of the brain which menas we are biologically prepared to acquire language, this explains why all human cultures have languages. Animals do not have this language acquisition device and therefore are unable to acquire language. However people have tried with chimps to teach the language.Hayes and hayes tried to teach a chimp to speak, after 6 year she had only learn 4 words which sounded similar to human words, up, cup, mama and papa.Premack and Premack taught chimp to communicate using coloured and shaped chips, she practiced sentences on her own but couldnt spontaneously ask questions, she acquired 130 signs. Bryan stated that vocal apparatus of a chimp is very different from that of humans and therefore they are unable to acquire language, gardner and gardner therefore decided vocal language wasnt appropriate for this species.

The aimed to see if they could instead teach a chimp American sign language and illustrate than humans arent the only species capable of language. A chimp was chosen because it is the most biologically similar to us and use their hands alot so would be able to produce hand signs.


Washoe was a wild-caught 8month old female chimp. During her first few months with the Gardners the worked on building a relationship and trust with her, the next 32 months they built an environment similar to that of a deaf human child, only communicating with washoe through ASL. They taught washoe signs through imiation, babbling and operant conditioning. Chimps naturally imitate humans so they played imitation games to encourage washoe to copy. spontaneous untaught signs washoe used were praised and encouraged as showed desire to communciate and operant conditioning was used to reinforce desired behaviour by rewarding behaviour. For a sign to have…


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