Washoe, the Chimp Who Could Swear


Washoe, one of the chimpanzees raised by Alan and Trixie Gardner from infancy using American Sign Language (ASL), learned to produce about 150 words. In some instances, she formed compound words to describe new events. ‘Water-bird’ was how she described a duck. In one documented instance, she extended the semantic referent of ‘dirty.’ Washoe, like other young Gardner chimpanzees, at first wore diapers. The word ‘dirty’ ws used to refer to her soiling herself. But when Roger Fouts, the graduate student working with Washoe refused to give her a second slice of cake at a party, Washoe signed ‘dirty Roger.’”

Philip Lieberman The Unpredictable Species: What Makes Humans Unique

Personally, I would have thought the ability to swear a uniquely human thing. However, as Professor Lieberman, or rather as the chimp Washoe demonstrates, not so…

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