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Linguistic chimp dies

Washoe, a primate pioneer in the study of non-human language acquisition, died Tuesday night (October 30th) of natural causes at her home on the campus of Central Washington University. She was 42 years old. The chimp was one of the first to learn American Sign Language when, in 1966, University of Nevada researchers Allen and Beatrix Gardner began teaching Washoe to sign. Washoe, who was named after the Nevada county where she lived with the Gardeners until 1970, would eventually acquire a voc

By | November 1, 2007

Washoe, a primate pioneer in the study of non-human language acquisition, died Tuesday night (October 30th) of natural causes at her home on the campus of Central Washington University. She was 42 years old. The chimp was one of the first to learn American Sign Language when, in 1966, University of Nevada researchers Allen and Beatrix Gardner began teaching Washoe to sign. Washoe, who was named after the Nevada county where she lived with the Gardeners until 1970, would eventually acquire a vocabulary purported to consist of more than 200 words. According to the linkurl:Friends of Washoe;http://www.friendsofwashoe.org/ website, Washoe knew (among others) the signs for "time," "eat," "who," and "play," which she would use to ask her handlers questions about the day's activities. She also knew the signs for some of her favorite foods, such as bananas and apples. Washoe sparked early debate among other researchers, including MIT's linkurl:Noam Chomsky;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15155/ and Harvard's Steven Pinker, who suggested that Washoe was merely imitating her human handlers and not truly using language. In 1980, Washoe was moved to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensburg, Washington, where she lived among other chimps and reportedly linkurl:taught;http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/8/1/28/1/ three younger chimps, Dar, 31, Tatu, 31, and Loulis, 29, to use ASL. CHCI's linkurl:website;http://www.cwu.edu/~cwuchci/ features news of Washoe's passing and includes a forum for mourners to post comments. As of 12:00 PM on November 1st, nearly twenty comments mourning the loss of Washoe appeared on the site. linkurl:Gary Shapiro,;http://www.orangutanrepublik.org/ourei/ primate researcher and conservationist, writes "Her linguistic (and nonlinguistic) abilities gave us another window into the universe of a sentient and kindred species, and our universe has been significantly diminished by her passing." According to her biography on the CHCI website, Washoe, who was wild-born in West Africa sometime in 1965, enjoyed flipping through books and magazines, brushing her teeth, and eating oatmeal with onions. Check out a video of Washoe linkurl:here.;http://www.friendsofwashoe.org/washoe_video.shtml A memorial service is planned for November 12th.
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