Three little chimpanzees understand English better than many Europeans. They write on the computer, seem to speak and even lie when they can not enforce their will. Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota are endearing "intelligence beasts" - and paradises for the study of language, thought and cognitive evolution. The small woman with the alert eyes and the sometimes fragile voice seems calm and reserved. Anyone who talks to her can hardly imagine that she sometimes screams and screams in the lab, beats on tables and fumbles with hairy creatures that surpass her in strength. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, in her mid-50s, is a professor at the Atlanta State University's Language Research Center, founded in 1981, and the foster mother of the world's most communicative apes. But she holds back modestly and leaves her "stars" on stage - especially the bonobos (or miniature chimpanzees) Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota. In the 1970s, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her later husband Duane Rumbaugh started teaching chimpanzees and bonobos abstract symbols on a computer keyboard. These symbols, so-called lexigrams, stand for individual words like "banana", "on", "in", "bucket". The now 20-year-old Kenzi now controls over 250 of these word symbols. Later it became apparent that Kenzi also knows the meaning of hundreds of English words. He can assign the words to objects, photos, actions and also lexigrams. Even more talented is his 5 years older sister Panbanisha. This surprised the researcher also recently with drawings on the floor. The lines looked amazingly similar to the lexigrams - Panbanisha had begun to write. However, the linguists are skeptical of the research. Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the world's most influential linguist, holds the idea of talking monkeys for wishful thinking. "It's as if you want to teach people to fly." Even the monkey researchers are not necessarily convinced of Kenzi's talent. Herbert Terrace, a psychologist at Columbia University, explains Kenzi's skills through training and imitation learning. With a new lexigram computer Sue Savage-Rumbaugh now wants to determine to what extent other skills in the bonobos stuck. The new computer enables more complex grammatical constructions and generates the appropriate English word at the push of a button. She sets high expectations on Panbanisha's 2-year-old son Nyota.
When the researcher observed wild little chimpanzees in Congo in the 1990s, she discovered complex processes of understanding. For more detailed investigations, however, there is not much time left. Due to various civilization influences, their species is today in serious danger. The occupation with the monkey has also found a very practical use. So lexigrams are already used to communicate with highly mentally and speech impaired people.
=== Rüdiger Vaas