Using a complex system of hundreds of pictograms called “lexigrams” on computer screens and printed charts, scientists at Bonobo Hope are able to communicate with the bonobos about daily activities, their wants and needs, and feelings.

The lexigram language has origins in research at Emory University by Duane Rumbaugh, who developed “Yerkish” language system to communicate about objects and people for chimpanzees Austin and Sherman. Later work with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center further developed the language system for the bonobos by adding more symbols for objects, food, emotions, and verbs and moving the system from mechanical systems to computer systems.

In 1991-1992 Russ RuBert developed “Language Vision” the first computerized touchscreen technology and using Amiga computer with a layered system of nested symbols. The computer systems controlled the simultaneous activation of a human word sound or chimpanzee sound for the symbol. The computer systems also allowed the activation of a video or picture image through remote control.

Being a learned symbolic system, humans and bonobos can read and understand the symbols whether they are printed on paper, signs, clothing or displayed on computer or video screens. Like any other language, the lexigrams also allow for the creative growth and development of new concepts through new or unexpected combinations in day-to-day experience.