Koko Assignment

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Submitted By lauren1719
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KoKo: A Talking Gorilla
When I was younger I had watched “KoKo: A talking gorilla” and I remember thinking how awesome it was that a gorilla was able to talk using sign language. Now that I am older and re-watched the documentary, my view on KoKo “talking” has changed. I do not believe that KoKo is able to talk using sign language, but rather that she uses modified gestures in order to communicate.
About seven minutes into the documentary, KoKo’s trainer Penny goes over some of the words KoKo is able to “sign”. If you watch very closely at the scene, you hear Penny first say the word and then sometimes sign the word to KoKo. Before she signs anything, KoKo always first looks to Penny as if she either does not know or is unsure of her answer, so she looks to Penny for the correct sign. This does not prove that KoKo can talk with sign language, nor that she understands what she is saying. This merely proves that KoKo is able to mimic what she is shown, much like a parrot mimics what it hears. Also in this scene, Penny is even shown forming KoKo’s hands into the words that she is being asked to sign. KoKo may know some words in sign language, but she is unable to form sentences and complex thoughts out of those words. She is able to give one word answers to various questions about what she wants or what things are, but KoKo relies more on pointing to her answer rather than signing it. One of Charles Hockett’s Nine Design Features of Communication is discreteness. Discreteness is the ability to form complex messages out of smaller parts. Humans that use American Sign Language to communicate are able to combine signs to form complex sentences and express thoughts and ideas. From what Penny and KoKo demonstrated in the film, KoKo was unable to form complex ideas using ASL and therefore does not talk using ASL.
While I do not believe KoKo is able to talk…...

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