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article imageChimps can learn words for objects

By Tim Sandle     Feb 10, 2015 in Science
Edinburgh - According to some new research, chimpanzees can learn “words” for objects. This is a new insight into how chimps learn and develop.
Chimpanzees are capable of learning new vocalizations to refer to specific objects. This is the finding of a new study where captive chimps have been compared with chimps raised in a different environment.
The study began in 2010 with a group of chimps raised at a safari park in the Netherlands. These chimps were integrated with a group of chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. Prior to the move, the Dutch chimps were enthusiastic about apples and used high-pitched calls to refer to them, whereas the Scottish apes voiced their displeasure for apples by referring to them with low grunts.
Biologists found that as the two groups became more closely knit over the following three years, the chimps maintained their respective apple preferences, but a team of researchers from the Universities of York, Zurich, and St Andrews noted that the apes from the Netherlands began referring to apples with the Scottish group’s grunting.
Commenting on the findings, study co-author Simon Townsend of the University of Zurich told The Verge: “As far as we know, this is the first evidence we’ve seen of a referential call being modified.”
Prior to this insight, scientists had assumed that these sounds used by chimpanzees and some other primates were closely tied to the emotions the animals had about the object. According to the BBC, the behavior of the chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo actually suggests that the sound associated with a given object can be decoupled from that item’s emotional value. “
The findings have been published in the journal Current Biology. The research is headed “Vocal Learning in the Functionally Referential Food Grunts of Chimpanzees.”
More about Chimps, Chimpanzee, Language, Linguist
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