Volume 2 · Number 2-3 · Pages 32–38
The Yerkish Language: From Operational Methodology to Chimpanzee Communication

Marco C. Bettoni

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Purpose: Yerkish is an artificial language created in 1971 for the specific purpose of exploring the linguistic potential of nonhuman primates. The aim of this paper is to remind the research community of some important issues and concepts related to Yerkish that seem to have been forgotten or appear to be distorted. These are, particularly, its success, its promising aspects for future research and last but not least that it was Ernst von Glasersfeld who invented Yerkish: he coined the term “lexigrams,” created the first 120 of them and designed the grammar that regulated their combination. Design: The first part of this paper begins with a short outline of the context in which the Yerkish language originated: the original LANA project. It continues by presenting the language itself in more detail: first, its design, focusing on its “lexigrams” and its “correlational” grammar (the connective functions or “correlators” and the combinations of lexigrams, or “correlations”), and then its use by the chimpanzee Lana in formulating sentences. The second part gives a brief introduction to the foundation of Yerkish in Silvio Ceccato’s Operational Methodology, particularly his idea of the correlational structure of thought and concludes with the main insights that can be derived from the Yerkish experiment seen in the light of Operational Methodology. Findings: Lana’s success in language learning and the success of Yerkish during the past decades are probably due to the characteristics of Yerkish, particularly its foundation in operational methodology. The operation of correlation could be what constitutes thinking in a chimpanzee and an attentional system could be what delivers the mental content that correlation assembles into triads and networks. Research implications: Since no other assessment or explanation of Lana’s performances has considered these foundational issues (findings), a new research project or program should validate the above-mentioned hypotheses, particularly the correlational structure of chimpanzee thinking.

Key words: Yerkish, artificial language, correlational grammar, operational methodology, Silvio Ceccato, machine translation, animal communication


Bettoni M. C. (2007) The yerkish language: From operational methodology to chimpanzee communication. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 32–38. http://constructivist.info/2/2-3/032

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