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Looking at their faces they are so tremendously expressive that it is natural to ask ourselves how to communicate with a gorilla. It is possible to do this, and how, and there are examples and studies that suggest that things will evolve quickly and positively. It is a beautiful story to tell, of dialogue, comparison, mutual understanding and domestication between man and animal. It also makes us reflect on the meaning of the word learning.
How to communicate with a gorilla: history
With gorillas it is possible to communicate thanks to the use of sign language. The idea is by no means recent, it has been almost a century that man has been involved in this practice and the results are there. We have to go back to 1925 when a US psychologist Robert Yerkes began to think about the idea of to make the gorillas "talk" and men. Initially it was only an idea but it took 5 years and it was he himself who founded a laboratory to study this possibility.
Research after research, we have come to our days with good knowledge behaviors and cognitive abilities not only of gorillas but also of chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, therefore of those species that are part of the hominid family. Yes, the same one we belong to. By also studying the anatomy of monkeys, it was found that it is the vocal apparatus that does not allow them to articulate sounds as we can. It is therefore useless to try to train monkeys to speak, there are other paths to take.
How to communicate with a gorilla: experiments
The first real, non-violent experiments to understand how to communicate with a monkey began in the 1960s. There protagonist is Washoe, a chimpanzee, not a gorilla, from 1965, who proved capable of learning sign language by memorizing up to 350 signals. He could understand them all to some he also used them, and taught them to his fellow men.
She was followed by an orangutan named Chantek, at the center of a research project started in 1978. He arrived at 150 signs related to words but he also knew how to combine them together to form small sentences. Do not imagine who knows what speeches, but the fact of creating a connection is significant.
Another interesting subject for studies on how to communicate with a gorilla is a bonobo, Kanzi. With him we carried out experiments with a keyboard composed of symbols corresponding to words. Like playing the piano, Kanzi learned to use and combine them to create sentences and communicate.
The interest in this type of research has been pursued ups and downs, especially in recent decades, but it has never stopped believing that monkeys are able to communicate and tell us their "thoughts".
How to communicate with a gorilla: Koko
Koko is a gorilla, finally, and is one of the most recent interesting cases studied to understand how to communicate with monkeys. It passed away recently but it will certainly go down in history for the results achieved in learning the American sign language that is usually used for deaf people to talk to men.
In its 46 years of life, Koko together with Dr. Penny Patterson he had learned to use a thousand signs, to combine them and to form approximately two thousand words. Its name, if you are wondering, is of Japanese origin but is linked to the 4th of July, a purely American day. Koko was called Hanabiko, at the registry office, which in Japanese refers to the "fireworks" the ones that crackled on July 4, 1971 in the San Francisco Zoo on the day of his birth.
Koko excelled not only in communication but also in other fields and was one of the few monkeys to pass the recognition test in the mirror, very difficult for many of her "colleagues". There have been many studies, when he was still alive, on his ability to vocalize, it seems that he made a lot of efforts to try to produce understandable sounds, with some results, not too excellent, but interesting.
The attention of scientists was in fact focused on nine voluntary behaviors that required vocalization control and breathing and that the monkey had learned, because they are not typical of gorillas. Blowing your nose into a fabric, playing a wind instrument, producing moisture on a pair of glasses before wiping them with a cloth, and miming a telephone conversation. All typically human gestures that Koko has learned from us.
Relations between gorillas
We don't know that we took inspiration from us, or even surpassed us, but recent research is showing that gorillas are capable of creating lasting bonds and very similar to those of humans. A team of anthropologists from Cambridge University think this attitude is due to the common ancestor between us and gorillas.
By documenting hundreds of gorillas, the experts realized they have social interactions also with other individuals, a bit like our extended family, in which there are uncles, grandparents and cousins. Analyzing the data, it was noticed that it is not a matter of "blood of my blood" but what is formed are extra social relationships, creating compact groups of long-standing friendships.