First chimp to use sign language dies

The first nonhuman believed to acquire a human language has died Tuesday night of natural causes at the Washington State research institute where she was kept.

Washoe, the female chimpanzee, was born in Africa around 1965. She was named for Washoe County, Nevada, where she lived from 1966 to 1970.

In 1967, Project Washoe was created to teach the chimp ASL because previous attempts to teach chimpanzees to imitate vocal languages had failed. Washoe also taught sign language to three younger chimps who remain at the institute.

Sign language with the chimp has opened a window into the cognitive workings of a chimpanzee’s mind that adds new dimension to human understanding.

Her memorial will be on November 12.


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