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Panzee and Panbanisha

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Panzee and Panbanisha are two bonobos with whom research is being carried out in the United States. The basis of the research, headed by E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a US anthropologist, is to study the language faculties of non-human primates and to find out to what depth their upbringing affects their ability to use language.

Panzee and Panbanisha were reared in an environment with other bonobos and with human teachers. These teachers used keyboards with ideograms on them in tandem with spoken communication in order to allow the bonobos to communicate back to them, and to allow the bonobos to learn to comprehend spoken and symbolic language.

The keyboards now in use contain a few hundred symbols, and the linguistic capabilities of the bonobos is quite good. They are able to recognise not only digitised and spoken speech, but also the use of solely ideograms from the keyboard. Panzee can even understand instructions from people using a telephone, and can associate a voice with a person without having to be able to concurrently see and hear that person.

An amazing side effect of the use of ideograms was that Panbanisha, in the absence of the ideogram keyboard, took up a piece of chalk and drew the symbol that she required, with no instruction or, indeed, prompting of any kind. Hence it has been seen that bonobos are not only capable of linguistic comprehension and usage, but of abstract thought and of primitive writing.

Panzee and Panbanisha are also both able to knap stone tools, with Panzee receiving instruction from a human stone knapper and Panbanisha receiving instruction from Panzee.

The experiments with these two bonobos are quickly showing us that the gap between bonobos and our early hominid ancestors, and even ourselves, is much smaller than we had previously realised.

External links

  • GSU Website (http://www.gsu.edu/~wwwlrc/biographies/pbpz) - Panzee and Panbanisha

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