Song of the apes

Time to mix it up! How about a book review? Today I am going to be reviewing the book “The Song of the Ape: Understanding the Language of the Chimpanzee” by Andrew Halloran, who also just so happens to be leading my field work in Sierra Leone! Now he didn’t ask me to read his book and write this review or anything like that, but I am taking a linguistics class and it seemed to go along nicely with what I was learning! So if this sounds interesting to you, go get yourself a copy! It’s available online on the kindle store!


Andrew Halloran’s The Song of the Apes is a book that discusses chimpanzee language, not in the sense of apes and their abilities to learn human language, but the complex language that they as chimpanzees have. It begins with describing his experience as a zoo keeper at a drive-through wildlife park and how that shaped his understanding of how chimpanzees communicate.

Then the book looks at the histories of the chimpanzees that made the daring escape plan that changed his life. It also discusses the evolution of the human understanding of chimpanzee language starting with the first attempts to ‘humanize’ a chimpanzee and the understanding that if a human is never exposed to language they will never learn. It also looks at the past of the chimps at the island and examines how their lexicon came together to create a language completely unique to the island. At the same time Halloran shows how a wild chimpanzees upbringing would be different and contrasts the ways in which the captive raised chimps versus the wild chimps are exposed to language.

Cindy, when she was a pet
Cindy, when she was a pet

This book is an interesting and entertaining look at how chimpanzees communicate and how the human perception of chimpanzee language has evolved since 1916 with Dr. William Furness. It does not look at how well chimpanzees can acclimate to human life or how well they are able to learn sign language, but instead shows that just because we can not necessarily understand what they are saying does not mean that they do not have a complex language. To highlight this Halloran also compares the complexity of the known chimpanzee alarm calls to those of other primates. He shows through many examples the cognition of chimpanzees and their abilities to communicate with one another, all well teaching you about the individuals so well that by the end of the book you feel that you look at the island he discusses and pick out each individual from sweet old Little Mama to the gentle leader Higgy.



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