Koko, Washoe, and Kanzi: Three Apes with Human Vocabulary

The Human Evolution Blog

In the last 40 years, there have been many apes that have been taught to communicate with humans using sign language or other means, but the most famous among them are Koko the gorilla, Washoe the chimpanzee, and Kanzi the bonobo. These are their stories.

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Koko was born in the San Francisco zoo on the fourth of July, 1971. Her name is a shortened form of Hanabiko, which is Japanese for “fireworks child,” a reference to her birthday. Penny Patterson began working with her almost immediately, originally as part of her doctoral thesis, and still works with her some 44 years later. She began with an intensive training program, teaching Koko to recognize both spoken English words and ASL-based sign language. Koko then graduated into making the signs herself. Patterson reports that Koko uses more than 1,000 different signs and can recognize more than 2,000 spoken words.

There is a…

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