Koko the talking gorilla - is it true, a hoax or a delusion of scientists?By Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/koko-the-talking-gorilla-is-it-true-a-hoax-or-a-delusion-of-scientists
In 2018, a female gorilla named Coco died at the age of 46 in one of the zoos of California, USA. It would seem that this is a sad, but quite ordinary event - animals die, both in freedom and in captivity. But Coco is a special case. Along with the death of this animal, a long-term experiment was interrupted, leaving behind more questions than answers.
Scientists who worked with the gorilla Coco, after her death, reported that she was the only primate on the planet who could speak sign language. But is this really the case?
Coco the gorilla, whose full name was Hanabiko, was born at the San Francisco Zoo. The baby was born during the fireworks dedicated to Independence Day and her name translates from Japanese as "child of fireworks". A zoopsychologist from Stanford University, Francine Patterson, was able to enlist the highest trust of the animal and this warm friendship lasted all of Coco's life.
Patterson did not spoil the scientific world too much, and especially journalists, with reports on her work, so information about Coco's successes was very sparse. It is known that the gorilla had an intelligence coefficient of 95, which by the standards of an ordinary person was an average. It turns out that in the world of gorillas, Dr. Patterson's ward was also an ordinary individual and did not have enough stars from the sky.
The researcher said that Coco not only spoke sign language, but also wrote individual letters, drew, tried to play musical instruments, and even got a pet. Yes, the gorilla made it clear to Francine that she wanted a kitten and, after much hesitation. her wish was fulfilled. In total, Coco had three cats and she took touching care of all of them.
When one of the animals died under the wheels of a car, the gorilla at first could not find a place for himself, and then for a long time and inconsolably longed. The monkey had a speech synthesizer and Patterson assured that Coco could use not only gestures, but also this device, telling about her joys and sorrows in stingy but meaningful phrases.
Patterson is convinced that everything Coco is capable of is available to any other gorilla, because her pet's intelligence did not exceed the average. They just gave her a chance, started training with her, and she showed what she was capable of. At the same time, the doctor is not sure that gorillas can teach each other gestures and other similar things, because in her mature years, Coco spent a lot of time in the reserve, where she communicated with other monkeys. None of the gorillas in this group showed any unusual knowledge.
Yes, very few people knew about Coco during her lifetime, mostly scientists studying the intelligence of primates. But as soon as the gorilla died, many articles appeared in the media, in which the fact that she was able to conduct meaningful conversations with people using sign language was actively discussed. But many reputable experts doubt such fantastic abilities of the animal.
Since the gorilla Coco was born in captivity, they started working with her very early, at the age of one year. Zoopsychologist Francine Patterson began to work with the animal according to her own methodology, teaching him amslen, or ASL, a simplified version of the American sign language.
After a while, Patterson began to claim that the gorilla learned to express her feelings with gestures, and in total she learned about two thousand words in English. But linguists, having studied Patterson's method, suspected her of wishful thinking.
Dr. Adam Schembri from the University of Birmingham believes that there is no reason to call the gorilla Coco the first primate to master sign language. The scientist says that the concepts of "mastered several gestures" and "learned a language" have slightly different meanings. Another authoritative linguist, Marcus Perelman, spoke on this topic as follows:
ASL language teacher Gerardo Ortega is sure that Coco has never even partially mastered Amslen. At best, the gorilla could use some gestures in certain situations after being stimulated to do so by the trainer. Agree that this can be called more training than communication.
Koko the gorilla was not the first primate to be taught to speak. The first experiments in this direction began to be conducted back in the 1960s. Then zoopsychologists used a simplified sign language that includes the least complex concepts. Even then it turned out that monkeys, and not only gorillas, but also orangutans and chimpanzees, are able to learn some gestures. But even then it became clear that animals could not use them at the human level.
Professor Graham Turner from Heriot-Watt University is sure that communication in any sign language, not only in Amslen, requires mastering a very complex system of information transmission.
Despite the skeptical attitude to the statements of Francine Patterson and her colleagues, all scientists, as one, admit that Coco had extraordinary abilities for a gorilla. Many of them personally observed the animal and were amazed by its ability to communicate with humans and animals, for example, cats.
No one belittles the merits of Francine Patterson and her colleagues, who have spent many years studying the abilities of gorillas, but, alas, their colossal work still cannot be proof that gorillas are capable of communicating with humans in sign language or any other way.
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