Appraisal in Bonobo-Human Culture

Negotiating social behavioural parameters through evaluation with bonobo apes


  • Naomi K. Knight University of Sydney



Discourse Analysis, Evaluation, Appraisal, Bonobos, Kanzi, Metasemiotic Development, Affect


Instances of linguistic interactions with the bonobo apes (pan paniscus) Kanzi and Panbanisha have demonstrated that symbolic meaning is negotiated by bonobo and caregiver through discourse semantic systems in the English language (Benson & Greaves 2005: 33--34), developing a unique bonobo-human culture based on shared linguistic communication. In this paper, I will exhibit that caregivers and bonobos co-construe a higher order of social behavioural values and activities in bonobo-human culture through the employment of the linguistic semantic system of Appraisal, negotiating rules and boundaries and social expectations specific to their environment. In redesigning the Appraisal systems of JUDGEMENT and APPRECIATION and their subcategories, as well as restating lexical realizations to suit this unique culture, humans and bonobos can be seen to clearly express and comprehend evaluations of the full Appraisal system. I propose that through language, the four essential values of safety, open and growing communication, cooperation, and positive encouragement are built and maintained in evaluative meanings. This illustration of the use of the full system of Appraisal by Kanzi and Panbanisha suggest that the bonobos have achieved metasemiotic development into the English language beyond its affectual beginnings (Painter 2003).

Author Biography

Naomi K. Knight, University of Sydney

Naomi K. Knight is a casual lecturer of linguistics and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. Her thesis examines the topic of conversational humour in a systemic functional linguistic framework, with a focus on the social bonding and discursive identity functions of this phenomenon. Her research interests include conversation and discourse analysis, as well as pragmatics, sociolinguistics and phonology. Additionally, she has worked on research projects in ape language studies involving data of language-competent apes Kanzi and Panbanisha, and completed her honours thesis on the subject. Naomi is the co-creator and co-convener of the International Free Linguistics Conference with Dr. Ahmar Mahboob, and her recent publications include: “‘Still cool…and American too!’”: an SFL analysis of deferred bonds in internet messaging humour” (to appear in N. Norgaard (ed.), Proceedings of the 34th International Systemic Functional Congress); “Questioning Linguistics” (co-edited with Ahmar Mahboob, in press for 2008); and “Deciphering Laughter: interpreting the semiotics of having a laugh” (co-author Chris Cléirigh, to appear in Dreyfus, Hood and Stenglin (eds.), Proceedings of Semiotic Margins).


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How to Cite

Knight, N. K. (2008). Appraisal in Bonobo-Human Culture: Negotiating social behavioural parameters through evaluation with bonobo apes. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 2(3), 355–376.




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