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Alex Can Spell

Northern Shoveler, San Antonio NM, February 10, 2011

Not very long ago, Dr. Pepperberg began trying to teach Alex and another gray parrot, Griffin, to sound out phonemes, which are the sounds that letters and letter combinations represent...

Not very long ago, Dr. Pepperberg began trying to teach Alex and another gray parrot, Griffin, to sound out phonemes, which are the sounds that letters and letter combinations represent. English has forty phonemes altogether. She and her colleagues wanted to see if the birds understood that words are made out of letters that could be recombined to make other words, so they started training the birds with magnetic refrigerator letters.

One day their corporate sponsors were visiting Dr. Pepperberg's lab, and she and her staff wanted to show off what Alex and Griffin could do. So they put a bunch of colored plastic refrigerator magnets on a tray and started asking Alex questions.

"Alex, what sound is blue?"

Alex made the sound "Sssss." That was right; the blue letter was "S."

Dr. Pepperberg said, "Good birdie," and Alex said, "Want a nut," because he was supposed to get a nut whenever he gave the right answer.

But Dr. Pepperberg didn't want him sitting there eating a nut during the limited time she had with their sponsors, so she told Alex to wait, and then asked, "What sound is green?"

The green example was the letter combination of "SH" and Alex said, "Ssshh." He was right again.

Dr. Pepperberg said, "Good parrot," and Alex said, "Want a nut."

But Dr. Pepperberg said, "Alex, wait. What sound is orange?"

Alex got that one right, too, and he still didn't get his nut. They just kept going on and on, making him sound out letters for his audience. Alex was obviously getting more and more frustrated by the minute.

Finally Alex lost his patience.

Here's the way Dr. Pepperberg describes it: Alex "gets very slitty-eyed and he looks at me and states, 'Want a nut. Nnn, uh, tuh.' "

Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin, p281, 282

Meet my friend Chicken

Read Alex Can Think as well. What do you think, Chicken? Read also: "That Damn Bird," A Talk with Irene Pepperberg

clipped March 15, 2005

Collection: Philosophy

I Ain't What I Was
Alex Can Spell
Alex Can Think
Beware of Hypnotic Media
When Hope Dies
Commitment is the Glue that Binds
Concentrated Space Intensifies Everything
Frustration Between People in Creative and Non-creative Universes
The Credential of the Dominant
Lifestyle's Supports and the Difficulty of Understanding
Digging Your Toes
Digitally Thin
Do We Really Mean What We Say
That's the Point of Emotions: Survival
Ever Tried, Ever Failed
Finding a Balance in Execution, Reflection and Articulation
Finding the Words to Fit It
First Find What's Truly Significant
Fit In Better
Float Your Ideals
From Knowledge to Wisdom
Genetic Determinism and Human Nature
God made mud. God got lonesome.
Growing up... it never stops
Skepticism is Helpful
How Do You Know
Haunted Until his Humanity Awakens
Gets Me Into My Boots
It's Time to Go Home
It was the Crickets
Leaving Home
Life is Strange
Life is to be Lived, Not Controlled
Make No Little Plans
Mix With the World
More Toward Realism than Fantasy
I Mourn the World in Which I Live
Normal Damage
There is Nothing a Man Will Not Do for Another
Now, Dazzled
Transcript of Barack Obama's Speech on Race and Politics
Observational Learning
One Forgets
Others Choose the Path of Healing
Our Peripheral Existence
Over Fifty
Passing Time in Byzantium
Our Past is Written Deep
People are Themselves
Persistent and Ineradicable Instinct
Playing and Learning and Loving
Politics and the English Language
Primary and Secondary Emotions
Proficiency in Knowledge of the World
Relive Your Traumas
Running With the Pack
The SEEKING Circuit
Shopping for sensation
Sincerity Itself is Bullshit
Or So I Feel
The Speed of Wisdom
Stay What You Always Were
That Ideas Should Freely Spread
The Bottom Line
A Theory of the State
The Speed of Darkness
Our Three Brains
Tools for Communicating
To Remember Safely
I Tremble for my Species
Truth and Story
Something Useful Can Be Artful
The Value of Notebooks
The Value of Time
Vision, Novelty and Fear
Visual Thinkers
A Voyage and a Harbor
Walk Humbly
Walking the edge, I am. ...
Was Love Then
What a Deale
What I've Learned
Ask What Surprised Them
Words Get in the Way
Writing From the Inside Out