Apes and the Evolution of Language: Taking Stock of 40 Years of Research

Heidi Lyn

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Apes and the Evolution of Language: Taking Stock of 40 Years of Research


In 1969, Allen and Beatrice Gardner published the first account of sign language-acquisition in a chimpanzee in Science. This paper stimulated numerous ape language studies using artificial communication systems. These reports and others set the stage for a long-standing debate that continues today concerning the extent to which nonhuman apes are capable of human language, and to what extent those abilities inform scientists seeking to understand the evolution of language. Despite its relatively short history, the field of ape language has been beset with considerable controversy, including debates over human influence on animal abilities, as well as relevance of such work for discussions on the evolution of language. This chapter will address these issues and the arguments involved and will also review the species, methodologies, and findings of the most prominent ape language projects.

Keywords: ape; language; chimpanzee; evolution of language; artificial communication

Article.  16990 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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