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Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving: "Yes, I see [a] party!"

Lawrence was here the day before Thanksgiving, to sit with Bow while my mother and I prepared things for the feast. They could both see the kitchen, from inside the pens, and Bow likes to watch. He was feeling very talkative that day, and Lawrence reports that he even used his touchscreen. At one point, Bow poked  the computer with his chopstick until he got it to say: "Yes, I see party."

"I see party?" I repeated when Lawrence told me.

"Yeah. That's what it sounded like. I didn't actually see what he spelled."

Bow contrives to spell things on the computer when Lawrence is not looking. So, it is entirely possible that the "see" was spelled "C". But the "yes" and the "party" would be hard to achieve any other way than spelling them out. And let's face it "I" and the letter "I" are already a shortcut in normal spelling.

Now, people who claim chimps do not have syntax could make a really big deal of how there was no article in front of the word "party". I assure you, however, that Bow left that out because of difficulty with typing, and not because he doesn't know grammar. For that matter, having articles in front of nouns is not a universal of human language. Lots of language don't have them at all. Hebrew has a definite article and not an indefinite one. One might have supposed it was a question of fluency with English. But those of us who know Bow really well know his English is better than that. Using the touchscreen is hard. I sometimes leave out articles when I type, too.

As for the semantics of what he said, you kind of have to understand the context, too.We so seldom have people over, even just family, that to Bow seeing me and my mother and Sword talking, and laughing and working in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving feast seemed like a "party".

Thanksgiving day was just family: Sword, Bow, my mother and me. Bow and Sword each got a turkey leg, so that neither could claim I was favoring the other. The other favorite thing among the younger generation was cranberry sauce. Here are some candid shots I took with my laptop's built in camera:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grandma's Here

My mother arrived last night, while Sword was at her musical event. Bow waited up for her until almost past his bedtime. He was very happy to see her and greeted her with gentle pants.

This morning, it rained. To say that it rained would be an understatement. There was a deluge. In this kind of downpour, Sword would have gotten a complete soaking, waiting for the school bus at the side of the road. My mother volunteered to stay with Bow, on the other side of the glass, while I drove Sword down my long driveway to the end of the property, and she waited for the bus to arrive before she got out.

Meanwhile, back at the pens, Bow used the potty and did not get off it till there was no more dripping! He was good for grandma!
Now grandma is in the kitchen working on Thanksgiving preparations, and all is right with the world.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Let Sword Read It, Too."

This morning, I picked up the proof of When Sword Met Bow from the P.O. box, while Lawrence stayed with Bow. After lunch, I read the book to Bow, and then I let him proof it himself. 
Bow seemed to like the book. He took a good long time to go over it. Then, later, when we were on the other side of the glass, he spelled: "Let Sword read it, too."
"Okay, Bow," I said. "I will. I'll let her read it as soon as she gets home from school."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Spring Internship Available

Today, Sword had a gymnastics meet, and she got to ride to the event with a friend. This means that even though it is a Saturday, Bow and I are all alone. Around eleven or so this morning, a vehicle drove up onto our property, and Bow, who had been napping on his blanket,  got up and stood to attention on his tippy-toes to see who it was.

It was Mark, the Schwan's delivery guy. We weren't expecting him at all. He comes every other Thursday. Today is not a Thursday.

"Didn't I tell you last time that I would come on a Saturday this week? Do you remember?"

"I don't remember that," I said.

He shook his head. "Nobody remembers. It's on account of Thanksgiving." Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it would be odd to receive a frozen food delivery on that day.

Mark usually comes right in so he can talk to Bow, but he had the feeling that we wouldn't remember, and we would be frightened by an unexpected person just walking in, so he stood at the door. "Come on in," I said. "Come talk to Bow."

"Hi, there, buddy, were you surprised to see me?" Mark asked Bow, and Bow vocalized excitedly back.

So, we are now set with frozen food for after Thanksgiving, as well as having everything we need for the holiday.

Another thing I did today was post another ad for an intern on Primate Jobs. It's unusual to get applicants for a Spring Internship, but you never know until you try!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Started Heating

I finally broke down and started heating, despite my Scrooge-like disposition.  I also installed a new heating lamp in the chicken coop. My  mother is coming in for Thanksgiving next week, and I hope that she will find everything nice and cozy. Sword has a musical performance to attend at her school the evening that my mother arrives, and I  have arranged for her to ride with her music teacher, while I stay at home to greet my mother. Bow heard us discussing all  of this at dinner last night, and before bed time he took me to the glass and spelled: "Call  Grandma. Tell her about problem with music."

There isn't actually a problem, but it's nice that Bow is concerned.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

But what about proof?

But what about proof? Am I really trying to prove that Bow can use language? Why have I spent so much time on proofing books for children, and so little time on trying to prove that Bow can read? What is more important here?

What's most important, of course, is for all of us to survive. And in order to do that, I have to start generating an income stream. We have to eat.

I set up an experiment, the goal has been achieved, but proof is hard to come by. And it's not just hard for me. It's hard for every animal language experimenter. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is still publicizing that Kanzi has English comprehension at the level of a two and half year old, when Kanzi is a very intelligent thirty year old. But knowing what he knows and being able to prove it are two different things. Irene Pepperberg worked with the late Alex, an African Grey parrot. He didn't need to point at lexigrams or words, he could vocalize comprehensible English. But in order for her work to be accepted, she had to make cognitive, not linguistic claims. Linguists who are receptive to her work like to point out that Alex's production and comprehension of English wasn't "language". He was just manipulating "auditory symbols". I ask you: when somebody says "green" to refer to a green object, and that person is a human, is the word "green" just an auditory symbol? Or is it a word? But when a parrot does the same thing, do we have to use different terminology to label it? And this goes on without having the problem that we're having: that Bow won't point at letters without using our hands.

Lawrence came back from his trip very eager to make progress with Bow. He has a really positive attitude, and he's trying to think of ways to get Bow less dependent on physical contact with us when he writes. He's thinking of things like taking letter boards outside with Bow, so that he can spell outdoors as well as in. (Of course, we did do that, but he tore them up, and it's just much better when he can't directly harm the letters he is pointing at, because they are behind the glass or beyond the grid.)

"Yeah, so you tried that," Lawrence said to me yesterday. "But maybe he can do things now, that he couldn't do before. Maybe he's maturing."

Lawrence may be right. We can try these things again. We can write letters in chalk on the concrete, we can wear T-shirts that are letter boards, we can re-try a lot of things we've tried before.  But... while we're trying all that, we still have to eat.

I'm hoping to start filming again in the coming year on a regular basis, and I hope that I'll be able to capture more footage of Bow spontaneously spelling, whether on the glass or on his touch screen.

"How many videos of him doing that will be enough to prove that he can?" Lawrence asked me yesterday.

I laughed. The truth is that I could have a million such videos, and it still wouldn't be enough. Doubters would want any possibility of "cuing" to be eliminated. They would want to see him doing this with no one in the room. They would want to see him doing it with people he doesn't know. They would want him to talk to complete strangers. They would want him to answer multiple choice questions, over and over again, till he was bored to tears, so everything could be "replicable" and "objective." And even if he did all these things, it might still not be enough, because he would be accused of doing it by rote, and the utterances would not be spontaneous.  So, while I'm never going to give up, I'm also not holding my breath.

The difference between me and Herbert Terrace is that I have a real relationship with Bow, and I don't see him as just a means to an end. Even if we never prove anything, Bow and I are still going to be together, and we still have to eat.

Which is why at the end of this year, I am putting more energy into proofing books, and less into trying to come up with proof. The next book I plan to publish, When Sword Met Bow, is going to come out sometime in December. If you buy it, please be sure to review it on Amazon. It might help us buy more bananas and grapes and apples.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Because I'm a Chimp"

Lawrence came back to see Bow yesterday, after an absence of a week. Bow was glad to see him, and even said he had missed him.

They played together outside, and around three thirty Bow asked to have an apple for a snack. Lawrence brought in two apples, one big and green, and one small and red. Bow asked for the red one.

Lawrence wanted to make sure that Bow really wanted the smaller apple. "Do you want the big apple or the small one?" he asked.

Bow took his hand and spelled: "The small one."

Lawrence went and  got it, but before he gave it to Bow, he asked: "Bow, why do you need my hand? Why can't you spell without my hand?"

Bow took his hand and spelled: "Because I'm a chimp."

Lawrence laughed and gave him the apple.

This is not the first time Bow has made that excuse, but it was the first time he'd said that to Lawrence.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Everyone wants to eat.

Yesterday, I was hard at work on hub about dominance. Dominance is not my favorite topic, because I am still struggling with it, but it certainly comes up a lot when dealing with a chimpanzee. The truth of the matter is that it's a tricky thing, and that all is not as it appears. I do have to stand up to Bow and not let him walk all over me, but at the same time, he lets me know in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways that when he does cooperate with me, it's because he chooses to, and not because he has to.

Even when Bow gets in trouble and has to be disciplined, the only reason I can stick to my plan of discipline is that Bow allows it. He respects me, and he demands that I respect him, and it's just not that easy to explain to outsiders. People who pick up on it and instinctively understand this concept, like Lawrence, get to have a fine relationship with Bow. But others, some who are too soft and others who are too harsh, just don't make it in the program.

Meanwhile, on Hubpages, all sorts of people have been sounding out about dominance. Some of the things they said were so bizarre! For instance, that one person can "give" dominance to another person. So I went and wrote a hub about it. And in  the process of writing the hub, I watched a video clip from Capra's Meet John Doe. In that scene, Gary Cooper is an unemployed, homeless man on the verge of starvation, and Barbara Stanwyck, a savvy newspaperwoman, hires him to perpetrate a fraud on the public, in order to sell newspapers. Watching the scene, I wondered: "Who is dominant?" After all, Gary Cooper is bigger and stronger than Barabara Stanwyck, and he could just take what he wanted from her, rather than making a deal. But somehow he doesn't. He defers to her power and her position. Does he do this because he has to or because he wants to?

Bow watched the scene with me. So I asked him: "Bow, who is dominant in that scene?"

He spelled: "Everyone wants to eat."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When It's Cold, It's nice to Snuggle

It's getting colder now, but I'm not heating yet. This is the best time of the year to snuggle together and share a blanket. It's very cozy, if a little boring. Bow yawns.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reviewing Books and Other Things

My book, In Case There's a Fox, is now available for sale on If you buy it, please consider reviewing it on Amazon, as every review can potentially help. The next book I plan to publish is called When Sword Met Bow, and it will recount their earliest experiences together, mostly from Sword's point of view.

I've been focused on children's books and how they are reviewed, and that's why this weekend I pulled out one of my very favorite children's books in the English language, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Secret River. It's been years since the last time I read it to Sword and Bow, but yesterday, Bow and I read it again.

It's really an excellent book, and not many are like it. It ties the cycle of life in with the business cycle in a way that no other book does, and without being at all preachy. There is such a light touch, and the prose flows like poetry. Bow leafed through it, and then he settled down on a blanket and let me read to him.

In the evening, I was intent on cleaning up and getting back to my review, but Bow spelled: "We should call grandma." So I did. He really has his priorities straight!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"I want you to go!"

Yesterday, Bow had a very big lunch. We have lunch at noon. We have dinner at five o'clock. If Bow feels a little hungry, sometime around three-thirty, he can ask for a snack. But yesterday's lunch was so satisfying, that Bow did not ask for a snack. However, he started to feel hungry about a quarter to five. And when Bow gets hungry, he also gets a little testy with people. He kept leading Lawrence toward the door.

"What do you want, Bow?" Lawrence asked, encouraging him to use his words.

Bow went to the glass and using Lawrence's hand as a pointer, he spelled: "I want you to go."

"Why do you want me to go?"

"So I can eat," Bow spelled.

"Bow, just because I leave, that doesn't mean you're going to eat," Lawrence said.

Bow was confusing sequence of events with causation. On days when Lawrence is here, he usually stays till five. Then I relieve him, and Sword and Bow and I have dinner. We don't have dinner because Lawrence leaves, we have dinner because it is five o'clock. And Lawrence doesn't leave because we're about to have dinner. He leaves, because it's five o'clock. If he left earlier, we would still have dinner at five o'clock. But it was a natural mistake on Bow's part to think that if Lawrence just left, it would be dinner time sooner.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Yesterday Bow used his chopstick to make his computer say "miles."

"Miles? What do you mean by that, Bow?" Lawrence asked.

At first Bow refused to answer. Then when he did, he took Lawrence to the glass and spelled: "You are going far away." It's true. Lawrence and his family have a cross-country trip to California planned next week. I guess Lawrence must have told Bow about it, to prepare him for the fact he won't be sitting with him at all next week.

Last  night when we were alone, I asked Bow: "Is that really what you meant when you said 'miles'? That Lawrence is going away?"

In Hebrew, Bow spelled: "Bow tried to talk on the machine, but it didn't work."

It's really hard to use that touchscreen. Even I can't always get it to say what I want it to.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bow Likes his New Swing

Yesterday, Lawrence could not come to sit with Bow, even though it was a Monday. But he came in today, which gave me a chance to vote. I also picked up my third proof of In Case There's a Fox from the post office box. The missing illustrations were restored. The colors were not quite as vivid as before, though. I debated with myself back and forth and decided to approve for publication. It is now available to purchase here:

 In Case There's a Fox

When I got home for lunch, Lawrence told me that he asked Bow if he liked his swing. Bow spelled: "I like my new swing." He seemed to want to make a big point that the swing is new.

"Why do you like it?" Lawrence asked him.

Bow spelled: "Because I can hang." He likes to hang upside down from the swing. And so they went outside and Bow proceeded to "hang".  All is well with the world.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Pumpkin Pie

Bow no longer dresses up for Halloween. When he was little, he once wore a cute little pumpkin costume. Clothes in general are something he outgrew. He was never that into clothes when he was little, and eventually I had to give in and agree that he did not in fact need to wear any.

Sword dressed up as a sorceress this Halloween, and she and I went trick or treating after Bow went to bed for the night. But the holiday did not go unmarked even for Bow. We had a special treat for dinner: pumpkin pie topped with Halloween themed edible decorations. Bow liked it! He even asked for seconds. Sword was happy with a single piece of pie. Bow and I each allowed ourselves two!