Today I’ve finished working on the electronic version of my dissertation GIMME GIMME GIMME. The recent signing behaviour of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in interaction with longtime human companions, for which I got my doctoral degree in April 2003 from the University of Nijmegen (now called Radboud University). The dissertation has a complete overview of all the research that has been carried out with signing chimpanzees, including the famous Washoe, the first ape who was taught signs with which to communicate with humans. It also has the full details of my study of the signing chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) of Central Washington University on their recent use of signs during the 1990s when they were in interaction with humans they had known for a long time.
The first chapter of GIMME GIMME GIMME discusses the history of the projects with signing chimpanzees. The second chapter then presents the various results of the projects with regards to signs, combinations of signs, discourse and conversational skills, the communicative intentions of the sign use, and the question whether the signing of chimpanzees should be interpreted as language or not. In the third chapter I discuss the problems of setup, method and interpretation of which sign language research with chimpanzees has suffered. In chapter 4 my study of the recent sign use of the famous signing chimpanzees is fully presented, with lots of tables and data. And with a surprising conclusion, given that I found that the signing behaviour of these chimpanzees could not be considered linguistic at all. Chapter 5 then includes the discussion of my findings, the question whether the chimpanzee signs can be interpreted as symbols or contioned responses, and the chimpanzee sign use is compared with the use of lexigrams by the famous bonobo Kanzi.
When I got my doctoral degree in 2003 I was unable to publish my dissertation because of the contractual constraints I had with the CHCI. When I was finally able to publish I contacted several scientific publishers to suggest a book based on my dissertation. For various reasons these publishers declined to publish it and meanwhile time moved on. So now I decided to wait no longer to get my work and these important results out into the open and for all to read. Click here to download my dissertation!
The dissertation is now in pdf format which means I can send it to the University of Nijmegen to have it posted with their electronic publications. This is an open site with access for everyone. Meanwhile I’m planning to write a popular-scientific book about my whole story with the signing apes. Stay tuned for more to come!