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The study of human biology and behaviour through other species has long been an important part of scientific research. The basic biological research on animals helps in understanding how living things work, and researchers use that understanding in applications for the benefit of both humans and animals. In the case of language study, teaching it to animals can provide insight into how humans acquire the skill, as well as help trace the origins of language from an evolutionary perspective. Besides, just because a species doesn’t have a complex communication system in the wild in the way that human beings do, doesn’t necessarily prove that they are incapable of using one. This paper attempts to discuss the research done in this area, particularly in relation to chimpanzees as well as evaluate the validity and importance of carrying out such work.

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Almost every living species across the planet has its own way of communication indigenous to their own species. Despite the variety the animal kingdom has to offer in this regard, these methods are not as complex as human language, in its ability to express the subtleties of meaning. So for the purposes of this paper, we must make a distinction between communication and language. 
Animal communication is “the transmission of a signal from one animal to another such that the sender benefits, on average, from the response of the recipient”. (Slater 1983) Language on the other hand can be described as a vehicle of communication. In order to contrast human language with animal communication, we use a check list for features that all human languages possess including duality of pattern, productivity, arbitrariness, interchangeability, specialisation, displacement, and cultural transmission.  No animal form of communication fulfils all of these criteria (Hockett 1960).

Much of the work done in this field of research into animal language has been carried out with primates. This is due to the fact that they are the closest living relative to human beings in the animal kingdom, hence they serve as good subjects to test language acquisition, due to shared genetic material. 

Furthermore, primates such as chimpanzees are highly intelligent, and members of this species might be intelligent enough for such purposes of experimentation. For example, in the case of the Washoe experiment, the experimenters chose a chimpanzee as the subject not just because of its intelligence, but because of the trait of sociability, which also includes the ability to form emotional attachment to human beings. They deem it “highly likely” that sociability is essential for language development in human beings. 

The earliest attempts made by human beings, between the 1900s and 1930s, to teach vocal language to animals did not work out as planned. However, in the 1960s, researchers began to use non-vocal communication in order to communicate with apes. They attempted to teach American Sign Language (ASL) to primates, including Washoe, a chimpanzee, Koko, a gorilla, and Chantek, an orangutan. Another chimpanzee named Sarah, learned how to manipulate arbitrary plastic symbols that stood for words. Another famous project involved Lana, a chimpanzee, who was taught to use an early computer keyboard, with arbitrary symbols the researchers called lexigrams. Other animals
One of the first  successful attempts to teach language to primates comes from Allen and Beatrice Gardner, who fostered Washoe, a chimpanzee, who was brought from West Africa to Nevada where she eventually learned over 350 words in the American Sign Language. It is worth noting that she was taught exclusively in ASL, and the Gardners actively avoided using vocal English in her presence. The rationale for this was that the vocal communications of apes was too closely tied to their emotional state. Also, their vocalisations seemed unsuitable for human language. They also believed that ASL and the spoken English language could not be taught at the same time, due to syntactical and grammatical differences. They argue that, “Attempting to speak good English while simultaneously signing good ASL is about as difficult as attempting to speak good English while simultaneously writing good Russian.” Furthermore, they realised that since deaf human children used sign language, they could study the speed at which the chimpanzees acquired the new language, in comparison to the way human children do. The introduction of sign language to their endeavours enhanced the project drastically. In about 51 months, Washoe had learned how to sign over 130 signs. 
The Gardners used a combination of methods to teach Washoe. One of those methods was imitation. They note that for the chimpanzee, visual stimuli were the most effective for imitation. Things which are seen tend to reproduced. What is heard is not reproduced. They write, “Imitation may be very important in the acquisition of language by human children, and many of our procedures with Washoe were devised to capitalize on it.” They also used babbling, where she expressed her wants through signs not previously taught to her. Instrumental conditioning strategies also proved effective. For example, Washoe learned the word ‘more’, when tickling was used as positive reinforcement. 
The Washoe case turned out to be successful, as she learned spontaneous naming, generalisation of terms to fit non-specific stimuli, as well as spontaneous combinations and recombinations of signs in an original way. 
Many hail Washoe as a breakthrough project that created significant impact in the field of animal research as well as helped understand language acquisition for both human beings and animals. However, the project was not completely free of criticism. Herbert Terrace, a researcher who tried a similar project with a primate, Nim Chimpsky, seems to think that the Washoe experiment was overstated, and involves less rigorous data collection and analysis and more anecdotal observational references. According to him, while apes could potentially learn many isolated symbols for various words, he finds no evidence that unequivocally supports that they could learn the semantic, conversational or syntactical parts of language.