Tag Archives: Tatu

Registration for new Hovo courses now open!

In 2011 I will be presenting my course Communicatie en taal bij dieren at still further institutes of the Hoger Onderwijs Voor Ouderen – HOVO (Higher Education for older people). My course on the many wonders of animal communication and the intriguing history of scientific research on possibly teaching a human language to nonhuman animals, has received wide interest.

This new year I will be giving my course at the HOVO Brabant Seniorenacademie at their location at Tilburg University. It will consist of 10 lessons on Thursday morning, starting on 27 January and ending on 7 April 2011. For the HOVO Leiden I will be giving the course in 8 lessons on Tuesday afternoon, starting on 22 February, with the last lesson on 12 April 2011. Registration for both courses is now open. You can find more information and register by clicking here for HOVO Brabant and by clicking here for HOVO Leiden.

The programme of my course Communicatie en taal bij dieren will consist of the following lectures:

  1. Communication and human language: Characteristics and definitions. Language development in human children.
  2. Natural communication of animals. Goals and modalities. The honeybee dances. The alarm calls of vervet monkeys and prairie dogs.
  3. Natural communication of animals. The songs and calls of birds. The communication of wales and other animals.
  4. Natural communication of the great apes: chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos.
  5. Language research with great apes. History. Experiments with spoken language and sign language. The world famous signing apes: the chimpanzee Washoe, the gorilla Koko, and the orangutan Chantek.
  6. The ape language controversy. Research with the signing chimpanzee Nim. Methodological pitfalls and errors in interpretations and conclusions.
  7. The recent use of signs by chimpanzees in interactions with humans. Systematic study and conclusions with regard to the linguistic nature of signing by great apes.
  8. The language research with the world famous Kanzi and other bonobos who communicate with lexigrams. Interpretations and conclusions.
  9. Language research with other animals: dolphins, sealions, Alex the parrot.
  10. How did human language evolve?

The courses will be given in the Dutch language, but passive knowledge of English is required, given that some of the videos and films that I’ll be showing at the lectures are in English without subtitles. Accompanying study material will consist of a reader/syllabus with major articles or book excerpts on the subjects of animal communication and language research with nonhuman animals. The powerpoint presentation of each lecture will be made available to those attending the course.

If Tilburg or Leiden are too far from where you live, don’t worry. I am in touch with several other HOVO institutes about giving my course in the Summer or Autumn of 2011. I’m looking forward to meeting you at one of my courses!


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Filed under Animal Communication, Language research with animals, Lectures and courses

Tatu signing BLACK

These are several pictures of Tatu signing BLACK, which I took in 1993 and 1995 during my visits to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington State.

The female chimpanzee Tatu was part of the second project that the psychologists couple Allen and Beatrix Gardner set up after their first successes with the famous signing chimpanzee Washoe. Tatu was born at the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma on December 30, 1975. Three days later she arrived in Reno, Nevada, to be part of the Gardner’s second project with newborn chimpanzees. Tatu is “three” in Swahili. By 1998 Tatu had acquired 146 reliable signs and 54 signs, according to the CHCI.

In the recent study that I did on the signing chimpanzees’ use of signs in the 1990s, Tatu made 899 analyzable sign utterances in the 22 hours of videotaped interactions with humans. She made a sign 1,348 times and used 55 different signs. The most frequent sign that Tatu used was THAT/THERE/YOU or pointing with her index.

Her second most frequent sign was BLACK. According to the Gardners and Fouts, the colour black used to be Tatu’s favourite colour. The Fouts later interpreted the sign BLACK not only as a reference to the colour, but also as a sign that expresses like or positive affect. They came to this conclusion because Tatu appeared to be enjoying some event when she used the sign even though no black objects were present. They then compared the use of BLACK to the use of the English adjective cool.

In most instances of Tatu’s use of BLACK in the corpora that I analyzed, however, the context did not allow for a certain judgment that she was expressing positive affect. These utterances were therefore coded as Unclear in terms of communicative intention. What was clear from the videos was that the sign was often repeated many times, over and over again. Tatu drew her extended index over her brow to the side sometimes up to five times. In the 1999 and 1994 corpora there were several times that Tatu signed BLACK at about the time she was regurgitating food. In these instances she bent forward to regurgitate while signing BLACK, after which she chewed on the regurgitated food now back in her mouth, sometimes repeating the sign BLACK. This combination of signing BLACK and the regurgitation of food occurred 15 times in four different 1999 conversations, so in half of the times that Tatu used BLACK in the 1999 sessions. In the 1994 corpus this phenomenon occurred six times in six different sessions. Nevertheless, in all of these instances the coders were unclear as to the exact intention Tatu might express at these moments.

A different explanation than Tatu saying cool when signing BLACK in the Unclear instances might be that the sign carries no referential meaning, but has become something of a tic or a nervous habit. It may still have a positive connotation, because there must be some incentive for her to repeat it that often. There may be a pleasant sensual feeling in repeatedly pressing her index along the pronated brow characteric of chimpanzees. Whatever the eventual specific underlying motive Tatu may have, it is clear from this study that Tatu’s unclear use of BLACK is a constant phenomenon that is consistent throughout the years. It appeared in the 1994 corpus of 1993-1994 and was also found in the 1999 corpus of 1999. A future study of Tatu’s intriguing use of BLACK is definitely worthwhile.

Read more about my study and its results and conclusions by downloading my dissertation.

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Filed under General, Language research with animals