Thursday, November 01, 2007


Just read that Washoe has passed away at the age of 42. She played a pretty central role in the old debates over whether other primates might have language, and thus in debates about what makes human language distinct. Basically, people taught her as much American Sign Language as they could and the question was whether she was imitating things or actually using something we could call 'language'. I'm no expert, but the prudent view seems to be the former, surely.

The big blogs will cover it in more detail, I trust, but it's worth noting the media treatment so far: The NYT piece linked above has a headline of "Chimp of Many Words". But the first link on the NYT website that comes up on a search for Washoe, here, is an AP story called:
"Chimpanzee Who Knew Sign Language Dies"
I'll give the point to the NYT on this one.

Image from here, where you can learn much more about her.

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