Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

The Bonobo Chimps of Columbus, Ohio: The Rhetoric of an Animal Society in Captivity

Mark Wagner.

In thinking about language, even Galileo couldn’t escape seeing it as some sort of machine, something that man had a hand in bringing about. This may be human vanity, or it may be an acknowledgement that human mind is capable to creating from the faculty of language modes of communication that we would consider more ‘human’ than natural.
My reason for pointing to nature as the creator of language is that we often have neglected the fact  that many other social animals have a distinct rhetoric. These rhetorics would also be spun from the hand of the evolving energies of our planet. While human language certainly is distinct in many fundamental and impressive ways from the calls of a pod of whales, by comparing and contrasting the rhetoric of other social animals, we may be able to make some judgments as to the fundamental principles of communication systems in language: In other words, what is it that nature needs her children to communicate about? What does human rhetoric share with bird songs? With the dance of the honey bee? With the shrill calls of the dolphin?
In 2004 I began to observe how a group of bonobo chimpanzees in Columbus Ohio communicate, with each other and with their keepers. What can we ascertain about human language when we study how this group of 20 bonobos communicate with their world?


Mark Wagner  (United States)
assistant professor
english / humanities
nichols college

poet, journalist and teacher, mark wagner lives in dudley, massachusetts.


(Virtual Presentation, English)