History of Ape Language

The field of primatology is relatively new to the academic world, officially recognized in 1966 with the meeting of the First Congress of The International Society for Primatology. Because it encompasses disciplines and methodologies from anthropology, biology, medicine, psychology and sociology, primatology occupies a central place in today’s intellectual studies of human origins and behavior. As it expands to include studies of higher cognitive processes such as language and consciousness, primatology will also begin to encompass physics, art and music.

The research underway at Great Ape Trust continues the traditional form of primatology and expands it to new horizons. The field began with a very limited view of the capabilities of non-human primates and an interest in defining innate behaviors as opposed to learned behaviors. Until now, the view was that man alone possessed true abilities for rational thought, culture, morality and language. Decades of work have shaken the initial assumptions to the core and have begun to redefine what it is to be a primate and consequently what it is to be human.

New technologies for studying the minds of other primates are emerging and developing in the highly supportive and collaborative research environment offered at Great Ape Trust. The techniques that are being brought on line for future long-term studies of culture, language, intelligence and tools are innovative. They are a synthetic product of: the keyboard Yerkish Language approach developed by Dr. Duane Rumbaugh in the early 1970’s; the intra-species language paradigms developed by Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh in the late 1970’s; the NASA Space Flight Battery of Primate Intelligence developed by the Rumbaughs and Dr. David Washburn in the 1980’s; the Forest Environment for Spontaneous Language Acquisition developed by the Rumbaughs in the 1980’s; and the maturation of all these technologies into long-term kinship-based studies of the Origins and Future of Language, Culture, Tools and Intelligence, at Great Ape Trust.

The environment for non-human primates that is emerging at Great Ape Trust is unique in the world. Few other research communities have access to the kinds of indoor and outdoor facilities for great apes that are being developed at The Trust.

These facilities provide the basis for far more detailed and complex investigations than have ever been conceived, except in nature. This environment provides the infrastructure for completely new means of investigating our own origins.

The blossoming of Great Ape Trust comes at a time when it is becoming clear that genetics must be paired with environment if we are to understand change across time.