Koko (gorilla)

Koko (born July 4, 1971) is a female gorilla who, according to Francine "Penny" Patterson, is able to understand more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, and understand approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. As with other ape language experiments, the degree to which Koko masters these signs has been controversial, as has been the degree to which such mastery demonstrates language abilities. Koko was born at San Francisco Zoo and has lived most of her life in Woodside, California, although a move to a sanctuary on Maui, Hawaii, has been planned since the 1990s. Koko is short for the name Hanabiko (? lit. "flower-fire (fireworks) child"?) in Japanese, a reference to her date of birth, the Fourth of July. Francine Patterson (her longterm trainer) believes that Koko's use of signs and her actions, which are consistent with her use of signs, indicate she has mastered the use of sign language. Other researchers argue that she does not understand the meaning behind what she is doing and learns to complete the signs simply because the researchers reward her for doing so (indicating that her actions are the product of operant conditioning). However, the latter position is not consistent with the claims that Koko uses the language freely and in novel ways, even when there is no foreseeable gratification. Another concern that has been raised about Koko's ability to express coherent thoughts through the use of signs is that interpretation of the gorilla's conversation is left to the handler, who may see improbable concatenations of signs as meaningful. Patterson says that she has documented Koko inventing new signs to communicate novel thoughts. For example, she says that nobody taught Koko the word for "ring", but to refer to it, Koko combined the words "finger" and "bracelet", hence "finger-bracelet". On April 12, 1998, an event promoted as an online chat with Koko took place on AOL. The transcript of this event, available on many locations on the Internet, contains at least one instance of Koko making a statement resembling a sentence: "Lips fake candy give me"; uttered while Koko was trying to get Patterson to give her a treat. The last three words would constitute the use of an imperative verb accompanied by both a direct and an indirect object. It should be noted, however, that Koko does try a few other, seemingly random, signs translated as "words" before and after this "utterance", se

mingly in order to achieve the same goal - obtaining a treat from Patterson. It has also been noted that Koko does not clearly seem to understand any language being directed to her in the transcript. Nevertheless, "candy give me" may be evidence that Koko can form a sentence. Criticism from some parts of the scientific community centers on the fact that while publications often appear in the popular press about Koko, scientific publications are fewer in number. Such debate requires careful consideration of what it means to "learn" or "use" a language (see animal language for further discussion). Koko's training began at the age of one. Patterson has assessed Koko's vocabulary at over 1,000 signs, which would place her among the most proficient non-human users of language.[non-primary source needed] The bonobo, Kanzi, who learned to speak using a keyboard with lexigrams, picked up some sign language from watching videos of Koko; Kanzi's researcher, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, did not realize he could sign until Kanzi began signing to anthropologist Dawn Prince-Hughes, who had previously worked closely with gorillas. Most of the claims about Koko's language use center around her use, not of sentences, but of adjectives, nouns, and noun phrases. For example, Penny will give Koko a treat if she points to an apple and gives the sign for "apple" or "red." Patterson claims that Michael, a gorilla who lived with Koko for several years, also developed a broad vocabulary of signs, over 600, but did not become as proficient as Koko before his death in 2000. Michael's caregivers believe that he witnessed and remembered his mother's death at the hands of poachers, but was unable to express the event clearly. In the PBS Nature special Koko: Conversation with a Gorilla, a group of Michael's signs is interpreted to be an attempt to convey a description of his mother being shot as he watched. While it was intended that Koko and Michael might produce a baby gorilla and teach it to sign, the two saw each other as siblings and did not mate. Another gorilla, named Ndume, was selected by Koko from a group of videotapes shown to her by Patterson, who played several tapes showing male western gorillas, in what may be described as an attempt at "video-dating." Despite these efforts, Koko and Ndume have also not mated. The Foundation is currently working to solve this, while Koko's biological clock still permits (possibly into her early forties).