Back in the 1970s, a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky took part in a Columbia University research study called "Project Nim."<quoted text>
Project Nim was led by Herbert Terrace, a psychologist at Columbia who was attempting to find out if a chimpanzee could learn to communicate using American Sign Language.
"Everyone knows that words are learned one at a time," but something happens when children begin to combine words and create true language, Terrace says.
The question, he says, was, "Could Nim do this?"
A newly released book takes a look at the project, and the people involved examine the ethics of the experiment.
The name Nim Chimpsky was a twist on Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist who theorized that language as we know it is unique to humans. Terrace wanted to disprove Chomsky's theory and show that a chimpanzee could develop real language.
To immerse Nim in a world where he would be taught sign language in the same way a human child would, Terrace brought him to live with a family in New York City in 1973, not long after the chimp was born. There, Nim joined a sprawling, chaotic blended family with many human siblings who could teach him sign language.