“With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?”
This is the question that a gorilla first poses to the protagonist in Daniel Quinn’s book, Ishmael. That particular gorilla communicates telepathically in the story, but it’s looking like our assumptions about some of the physical limitations once assumed to block gorillas’ capacity for speech may be giving way.
“Decades ago, in the 1930s and ’40s, a couple of husband-and-wife teams of psychologists tried to raise chimpanzees as much as possible like human children and teach them to speak. Their efforts were deemed a total failure,” Perlman says. “Since then, there is an idea that apes are not able to voluntarily control their vocalizations or even their breathing.”
“Koko bridges a gap,” Perlman says. “She shows the potential under the right environmental conditions for apes to develop quite a bit of flexible control over their vocal tract. It’s not as fine as human control, but it is certainly control.”
HT Ward Plunet