Mental representation of symbols as revealed by vocabulary errors in two bonobos (Pan paniscus)

Heidi Lyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Error analysis has been used in humans to detect implicit representations and categories in language use. The present study utilizes the same technique to report on mental representations and categories in symbol use from two bonobos (Pan paniscus). These bonobos have been shown in published reports to comprehend English at the level of a two-and-a-half year old child and to use a keyboard with over 200 visuographic symbols (lexigrams). In this study, vocabulary test errors from over 10 years of data revealed auditory, visual, and spatio-temporal generalizations (errors were more likely items that looked like sounded like, or were frequently associated with the sample item in space or in time), as well as hierarchical and conceptual categorizations. These error data, like those of humans, are a result of spontaneous responding rather than specific training and do not solely depend upon the sample mode (e.g. auditory similarity errors are not universally more frequent with an English sample, nor were visual similarity errors universally more frequent with a photograph sample). However, unlike humans, these bonobos do not make errors based on syntactical confusions (e.g. confusing semantically unrelated nouns), suggesting that they may not separate syntactical and semantic information. These data suggest that apes spontaneously create a complex, hierarchical, web of representations when exposed to a symbol system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-475
Number of pages15
JournalAnimal Cognition
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007

Keywords

  • categorization
  • error analysis
  • bonobos
  • mental representation
  • evolution of language
  • PARROT PSITTACUS-ERITHACUS
  • GORILLA-GORILLA-GORILLA
  • LANGUAGE-SKILLS
  • CATEGORIZATION
  • ABSTRACTION
  • TROGLODYTES
  • CHIMPANZEE
  • WORD
  • DISCRIMINATION
  • ACQUISITION

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