Conversation with Koko: Browsing for Hats

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The following conversation took place between Koko and a volunteer, who happened to be walking by Koko’s outside yard to empty the compost bin, when she was asked an impromptu question by Koko. It is reported by the volunteer: On Saturday, February 12, 2005 I had an impromptu conversation with Koko that she initiated no less! I was going outside to empty the compost bin around 11:30 am, and Koko was outside and she did her attention noise, which is a kissy lip smacking sound. I turned towards her and she signed           Koko: “that browse that” Koko signs“browse” (a sign she invented) by,signing the letter “s” at her brow. where browse means the leafy green vegetables that she eats, like lettuce and kale and stuff. I signed back:            Volunteer: “no, not browse, trash, not good food” then she hunched her arms back in front of her in her lap with a heavy sigh. It was funny, like ‘oh, darn.’ She then signed something that I didn’t understand, a sign where she rubs her finger across her lip one time, and then she tapped the top of her head. I knew I had seen the lip thing before but that it was a gorilla sign, not an ASL sign. But I couldn’t remember it. The head tap means “hat.” So, I’m standing there trying to understand what she said, and I finally just signed           Volunteer: “I don’t understand.” She repeated the signs but started with pointing at me, then did the lip rub in one direction then the hat. Then I got it! The previous week, I had been wearing my Guatemala hat. Very colorful. And the “lip” sign is her sign for “woman.” So Koko had signed:           Koko: “you, woman, hat.” I signed back:           Volunteer: “Yes! Last week I had a hat, right! This week I not have.” Then I signed that I had to go throw the trash away. That was sooooooo coool! She initiated the conversation and she remembered me! How cool is that!!!!! Stay tuned for more interspecies communication journal highlights from the perspective of Gorilla Foundation caregivers and researchers in “Penny’s Team Journal.”