While working as a zookeeper with a group of captive chimpanzees living on an island, Andrew Halloran witnessed an event which would cause him to become obsessed with how chimpanzees communicate complex information and ideas to each other. He had carelessly forgotten to secure his rowboat and watched it floating over to the island, where five members of the chimp group quietly boarded.
They sat in two perfect rows of two with Higgy, their alpha male. at the back, propelling and steering the boat to shore.The incident must have been preplanned and communicated. Since then, Andrew has studied primate communication. What he found is that chimpanzees use a set of vocalizations every bit as complex as human language. The Song of the Ape traces the individual histories of these five chimpanzees and examines how their histories led to the lexicon of the group. Interspersed with these histories, the book details the history of scientists attempting -- and failing -- to train apes to use human grammar and language. Ultimately the book shows that while laboratories try in vain to produce a talking chimp, there is a living lexicon being passed down through the generations of each chimpanzee group in the wild.
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