The Yerkish Language For Non-Human Primates

Abstract

Y e r k i s h , t h e l a n g u a g e desc r i t r4d i n this p a p e r , was devigrred f o r the purpose of e x p l o r i n g t h e e x t e n t t o which non-human o r g a n i s m s (e.g. g r e a t a p e s ) c o u l d be t-,rougiit t o a c q u i r e l i n g u i s t i c skills. F i r s t a t t e m p t s a t t e a c h i n g a spoken language t o non-human primates had f a i l e d , a p p 3 r e n t l y b e c a u s e ol t l le a n i m a l s ' i n c a p a c i t y v o c a l l y . t o p roduce tlle phonemes of a n a t u r a l l anguage . Subsequent work (Gardner G C a r d n e r , 1971; I 'remack, 1 9 7 1 ) d e m o n s t r a t e d t h a t colr.munication cou ld be a c h i e v e d Ey means of v i s u a l s i g n s o r symbols . Yerk i sh is a v i s u a l l a n g u a g e w i t h a l e x i c o n of gsap l r i c word symbols ( l e x i g r a m s ) , e a c h of whicl;l i s a c o m b i n a t i o n of d i s c r e t e r e c u r s i v e d e s i g n e l e m e n t s . Each l e x i g r a m i s r e p r e s e n t e d on o n e of 125 keys of a k e y b o a r d , S e n t e n c e s a re formed b y p r e s s i n g keys i n s u c c e s s i v e o r d e r . S e n t e n c e l e n g t h , a t p r e s e n t , i s l i m i t e d t o seven lex igrams . I n p u t from t h e keyboard is m o n i t o r e d and r e c o r d e d b y a computer t h a t , c o n t a i n s i n i t s c o r e t h e l e x i c o n , A p a r s e r , and c e r t a i n r e s p o n s e c a p a b i l i t i e s . The g rammar i s s t r i c t l y i n t e r p r e t i v e and w a s d e r i v e d f r o r t1:e 1 c o r r e l a t i o n a l ' systkm implenlented i n t h e ? I u l t is t o r e p a r s e r f o r 1 : n ~ l i s P . s e n t e n c e s (von C l a s e r s f e l d . & P i s a n i , 197-0). ? h e p a r s e r works o n t h e bas i s of e s s e n t i a l l y n o n l i n g u i ~ t i c c l a s s i f i c a t i o n s of items arkd r e l a t i o n a l c o n c e p t s ( t a b l e s of t h e o p e r a t i o n a l c l a s s e s a r e p r o v i d e d i n t h i s F a p e r ) . I t p roduces a s t r u c t u r a l a n a l y s i s i n t e rms o f imr?.ediat,e c o n s t i t u e n t s . I f a n i n p u t s t r i n g y i e l d s one comprehens ive s t r u c t u r e , t h e s t r i n g i s deemed grammat.ica1. The f i r s t l e x i g r a m f u n c t i o n s as a s e n t e n c e marker i n d i c a t i n g t h e mood of t h e u t t e r a n c e : a f f i r m a t i v e , n e g a t i v e , i n t e r r o g a t i v e , and i m p e r a t i v e . I n t h e c a s e of c e r t a i n r e q u e s t s ( i m p e r a t i v e s ) , t h e conputer a c t i v a t e s mechanical d e v i c e s that f u l f i l t h e r e q u e s t ( d i s p e n s i n g food, d r i n k , t o y s , p l a y i n g music o r a movie, e t c . ) Given t h i s response c a p a b i l i t y , a 24-hour l e a r n i n g s i t u a t i o n i s c r e a t e d i n which there .is always some ' p o t e n t i a l i n c e n t i v e f o r the animal t o u se l i n g u i s t i c communication. Yerkish lex igrams and sen tences are e a s i l y t r a n s l a t e d i n t o E n g l i s h , b u t semant ics and s e n t e n c e s t r u c t u r e a r e somewhat r e s t r i c t e d . Lexigrarns a l v a y s have only one meaning of t h e cor responding E n g l i s h and t h e r u l e s f o r t h e i r c o n c a t e n a t i o n \$ere designed t o reduce a m b i g u i t i e s t o a minimum. The paper exp la ins dev ia t ions from ~ n g l i s h grammar by means of s t r u c t u r a l diagrams and demonst ra tes t h a t , i n s p i t e of t h e many s i m p l i f i c a t i o n s , Yerkish a l lows f o r embedded clau-ses and i s , indeed , capab le of expansion i n many d i r e c t i o n s . ? Three examples of conversq t ions ' w i t h the young female chimpanzee that is being t a u g h t t h e u s e of Yerkish are added as an appendix t o t h e paper .

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Glasersfeld1979TheYL, title={The Yerkish Language For Non-Human Primates}, author={Ernst Von Glasersfeld}, year={1979} }