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Pre-Islamic Arabia
Interests: This upstart new religion and their old book.
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Historically, deaf people have been considered less than human, more like dumb beasts, like oh, apes. In 1779 Pierre Desloges wrote the first book showing that our signed language was functionally equivalent to speech in every way. In the sixties, William Stokoe proved to the satisfaction of the world's linguists that ASL was structurally the same as spoken languages. Further research got it accepted as a multiply inflected, topic prominent, nonconfigurational polysynthetic language making great use of classifiers, quotatives, a complex pronominal system of 100+ forms grammatically marked for formality, aspect, the inclusive /exclusive distinction, and many other features. Finally, after thousands of years, vindication-- deaf people were accepted as being more than dumb animals. Then we read a sentence like “Washoe learnd ASL”. Shit. I hope you can see why some might find this upsetting? -------------------------------------- BLOGGER: Yes that was sloppy of me. He learned a few signs.
It's difficult to see how any parent could accept the assumption that children “learn their mother tongue with little apparent effort”. A comparative like 'little' is meaningless without a standard of comparison, which in this case has to be an adult learner. For such to learn a category IV language, the hardest, is estimated to take 2000 hours. Watching me write this is a typical 2yo, who virtually never shuts up, and undoubtedly racks up that much in a year, and the typical rate of two hours a day isn't even a shadow of the work he puts in. Effortless? The theories can more easily explain a problem if it exists.
A caveat: equating gesture with hand signs sets up a false dichotomy that is potentially very misleading. Formal signed languages crucially utilize orofacial and body movements, and Taglialatela discusses orofacial gestures through the paper. The important distinction is not between hands and voice, but between visual or audio productions organized linguistically, versus those of either type that are not so organized. ASL for example uses the lips and tongue as articulators, both syntactically and lexically. Obviously, the same lips and tongue also produce random visual images and random noises, as well as linguistically organized sounds.
Toggle Commented May 7, 2011 on Is Speech as Old as Language? at Babel's Dawn
Sure. To communicate the idea of [looking at] something , a person without language would mime a movement from their eye to the object, building on the metaphor of something moving from point A to point B (think of the game Charades). The receiver doesn't require language to interpret this, only an understanding of shapes and movement, and the iconic/indexical relations amongst eyes and viewed objects. In a visual medium this is easy; with sound, not so much. In grammatical terms, the path movement of their hand is the verb, the end point is the object, and the start point is the subject. The pantomime can even express the Indirect Object: for the idea of [giving], you'd hold your hand differently for a coffee cup than for a sheet of paper. However, subjects and objects, verbs and nouns, these are grammatical categories, which can't exist before there's some grammar. Here, even though it contains multiple “morphemes”, and expresses all the “syntax” of a complex sentence, all we have is a single undifferentiated unit with no linguistic structure. To create a language, children would analyze such a unit, extract a single morpheme, e.g. the Indirect Object handshape, and insert that morpheme into other units, thereby forming the regular paradigms that make up a system of grammar. To use that system linguistically, they could reverse the start and end points to produce a sentence “you-look at-me”, or they could sign “look at-that cup” (eyegaze directed towards the recipient completes the speech triangle). The final forms they adopt might even produce a sentence that looks exactly like the mimed gesture, but it undeniably would be language by virtue of its membership in the system of grammatical structure.
Toggle Commented Apr 18, 2011 on 300 Years of Wondering at Babel's Dawn
It's Wilcox, not Wilson, and not Wicox as the article cites it. It's Sherman Wilcox All three these authors have pretty much spent their careers showing that elements of signed and spoken language are not different. ------------ The elements are concepts—in terms of actions, actors, and relationships amongst them—that are associated with perceptual units, which are then combined, and the medium constrains how they can combine. In a visual medium we can easily produce a single pantomimed action that expresses all these elements simultaneously, and a receiver can process it using no more than the perceptual resources that evolved to interpret our external world. Nothing linguistic required. Then, if these pantomimes are grammaticalized into a stable system, they can be analyzed as syntactic categories, e.g. nouns and verbs that we recognize as language. In the aural medium, the best we can do is associate a discrete sound unit with an actor, another discrete unit with the action, and add word order rules or yet another perceptual unit to clarify the semantic relation. At minimum, a noun, a verb, and a case marker. The aural medium requires multiple morphemes plus syntactic rules to express what the visual medium expresses in one unit, and only rarely can arrange all these elements into a directly grounded relationship with their referent (subject of the next post).
Toggle Commented Apr 15, 2011 on 300 Years of Wondering at Babel's Dawn
In fact we cannot find example were healthy human has Mind and lacking Language ... I have repeatedly pointed out how we can and do find such examples, with references cited. This is not just wrong but insulting: deaf people are not autistic as you assumed on the other thread; nor do deaf-blind people have epileptic seizures. You are using definitions of language and other terms that no one else in this conversation/blog is using. Goldin-Meadow's use of the term gesture is nothing like what you say it is, but is consistent with other leading researchers such as David McNeill and Adam Kendon. I use the term audiovisual to stress that while some languages are purely visual, there are no purely aural languages. Nor are there any tactile languages. Though possible theoretically, and blind signers do use some tactile elements syntactically, social conditions that would allow such a language to develop do not occur. The article you reference, with such laughable falsehoods as“the elements of sign language … differs radically from the structure of verbal language.” and “all sign languages are onomatopoetic”, can not be taken seriously.
Toggle Commented Apr 9, 2011 on 300 Years of Wondering at Babel's Dawn
Tell me, Uzza, if this kind of vision of core of Language is silly Yes.
To see how mind and language interact, it helps to know what at least one of them is, cf our friend Jerry with his idiosyncratic definitions. With few exceptions, no one studied language prior to 1960, since they didn't know what language was, universally confusing it with its aural expression. Then William Stokoe, with far greater effect on the history of language studies than Chomsky will ever have, redefined the subject matter—in a way analogous to the change from Alchemy to Chemistry, or from Astrology to Astronomy Now that we know languages are not simply aural but audiovisual, we no longer have an excuse to fumble blindly like our ancestors and ignore the visual components of every language. Studying the visual aspects can tell us how the mind works, and show us, literally, how linguistic structures evolve and change. I refer everyone to Susan Goldin-Meadow's classic reference Hearing Gesture, Harvard U, 2003.
Toggle Commented Apr 7, 2011 on 300 Years of Wondering at Babel's Dawn
Blair---Well, I'm talking about the origin of language, before there is any free lunch provided by earlier generations. Not deaf people without a widely shared language, people without any human language whatsoever. Such people inevitably are also deaf, as for example George, an orphan described by Raija Nieminen in her book Voyage to the Island, who lived somewhere in the jungle and came into town every day to make his living as a newspaper vendor, even though he could hear no speech and had never encountered people who signed [notice these people have no trouble doing math]. He understood himself to be a member of that local community and enjoyed reputation, favors, trade, moral codes, group identity, as do all such people. Since they do so today without language, I assume they did so anciently before language was invented. Jerry--I like your “Ability to Act Linguistically”, as compared to any actual using of language. I don't try to separate language from culture, only note that both are “group behavior that is passed on socially rather than genetically”. I don't know what you mean by syntactic perception. People without language have no syntax and organize their communication by functional roles, like agent-act-object. Example = moving a closed hand from their head towards you might signify 'me-INFORM-you', metaphorically transferring some thing (message) from them to you. All without vocalizing, this is a word, an entire sentence, and a metaphor. Technically it's gesture, or mime, not language, and not syntactic since it's not part of an organized system with grammatical categories like nouns and verbs. Under the right social conditions people will begin to inflect it, into forms like 'you-INFORM-me' with the hand going in the opposite direction to reverse the participant roles. Then it's syntactic, and what I am calling “language”, but apes can't do this, and people like George don't, without help.
Toggle Commented Mar 18, 2011 on Social Networks Before Homo sapiens at Babel's Dawn
All that sort of thing—reputation, favors, trade, moral codes, group identity—depends on language. Actually, it doesn't. Deaf adults without language demonstrate all these things. For most of its history, language was speech. You know this how? I'm sure Jerry was referring to signed language, not writing. As I commented earlier, Uniformitarianism, + modern day language genesis = we already know how language evolved originally. The only part we have not observed directly is the transition from gestural language to language consisting of gesture+speech. However, language is cumulative culture that starts with the direct indexical relationship between a pointing finger and a referent, uses it as a a tool to link a sound symbol to the attentional triangle, after which the original gestural tool becomes optional. There is no yada yada here, as opposed to the alternative: arbitrary sounds, yada yada became associated with referents, pilot attention, language. --------------------------- BLOGGERS: One thing I do want to make clear is that I am referring to the effects of speech over generations. We all benefit from the free lunch provided by earlier generations. I’m not talking about individuals but the evolutionary history of the lineage. Deaf people, even those without a widely shared sign language, do indeed enjoy reputation, favors, trade, moral codes, group identity.
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2011 on Social Networks Before Homo sapiens at Babel's Dawn
If uniformitarianism holds, then the processes used to create language the first time are the same ones used today by language-deprived deaf children. These the children spontaneously invent strategies like case markings and word order, with each individual favoring one or another; when they interact socially the grammatical constructions undergo a process of selection to converge on a shared form. This process has been observed to generate entire new languages in the space of a single generation. All this has been studied in detail and is well laid out in the following two books: the Resilience of Language, Susan Goldin-Meadow (2003) ISBN 1-84169-026-0 Constructing a Language, by Michael Tomasello (2003) ISBN 0-674-01030-2
Toggle Commented Mar 13, 2011 on Yada Yada at Babel's Dawn
This line of research parallels other studies dealing with language genesis. In particular William Washabaugh's account of Providencia, where deaf islanders failed to create a new language as occurred in Nicaragua, Bali or Israel. Even though their linguistic environment appeared outwardly the same as the first cohort in Nica/Israel, differences in the social situation were such that they never followed that same path toward inventing language. The social situations of the apes and the islanders seem eerily similar.
With language we can direct our attention to a topic and contemplate it. Without language we can do this as well. The best description of it is still Susan Schaller's book, A Man Without Words, 1991, University of California Press. ===================== BLOGGER: Uzza is a good example of how blogs work (at there best). The blogger says something genera;a commenter raises a sharp point. The two go back and forth and (one hopes) matters clarify. It is certainly true that people today can contemplate topics without resorting to language. Nobody can write a book about how Einstein thought without llearning that. Duke Ellington is another example. I don't know the book Uzza mentions, but I'll put it on my list. Thinking about topics in any detail beyond watching them closely requires shifting attention and even focusing on two things (e.g., subject, predicate) simultaneously. I suspect (hypothesize) our ability to do this evolved with the evolution of the brain supporting language. The power to shift attention comes from connections between different parts of the brain. Apes may be able to do this on occasion, but humans have circuits that make it all much more efficient, which means less exhausting and more persistent. Now that we have a long history of the brain and language co-evolving we can take control of our attention without language. Some people are very good at this, others (me for example) are weak. But when discussing the origins of something like self-awareness we are talking about a species of Homo rather earlier than our own. In those days dependence on speech to control attention was likely more dependent on speech and less on brain circuits.
Toggle Commented Jan 25, 2011 on The Axioms of Language Evolution at Babel's Dawn
Fair enough, but it might be well to reword your last sentence (among others) as it indicates a specific sequence. It could very well be sentences which give us morphemes, which give us features, instead of the other way around. Elissa Newport's work for example. ------------------------- BLOGGER: I agree with you in general, but this is a blog where even at the level of Babel's Dawn a certain overgeneralizing brashness is used to pepper the reports. In my book--where I do have a thing or two to say about combinations--I hope I'm more precise.
Toggle Commented Jan 24, 2011 on The Axioms of Language Evolution at Babel's Dawn
"an unquestioned fact: phonemes give us morphemes which give us words which give us sentences" How do you reconcile this assertion with polysynthetic languages where words and sentences are indistinguishable, or signed languages where phonemes only arguably exist? ------------------------------------------ BLOGGER: The point is that languages work by combining a number of discreet sounds (or other elements). Polysynthetic languages have a great many morphemes per word/sentence and are not an interesting challenge to that concept. I don't know enough about signed languages to comment, although from your remarks they too sound combinatorial.
Toggle Commented Jan 24, 2011 on The Axioms of Language Evolution at Babel's Dawn