March 31, 2010

In this installment and in the next two or three we are going to discuss what language means by clarifying the connections among words thoughts and images. Many people, including language professionals as well as laypersons, see thought as existing independently of language. Of course, thinking can go on in the absence of language, otherwise no infant or nonhuman for that matter, could think; and to claim that they cannot think would be out of the question. The question often asked is ‘Is their thought without language?’ To me, this sort of question begs a different sort of question. “Is all thinking the same”? If you recall what I explained in the previous Blog and despite what you may have heard about the so-called language of bees, trained apes, parrots, your favorite pet cat, or dog, animals don’t have language—humans do.

Bear with me as I try to sketch the differences. First, images. Many people say, “I think in images not words. Of course you can translate these images into words, after the fact, if you had a mind to. But what does this prove”? Let’s say you are a person who claims to think in images. You have an image a of cat on a mat, and indeed you can quickly dress it out as ‘ The cat sat on the mat.’ But if the cat’s got your tongue, you could draw it; if this failed, you might be able to point to actual cats and mats in the room.

The test above is far too simple. Let’s try something more like ‘My trust in you has been shattered forever by your unfaithfulness.’ Can you conjure up a mental image to which this sentence matches up? My guess is that you drew a blank or you replayed the sentence again or something similar. If you did that however, you would be thinking in words not images? Let’s continue on this topic. What sort of feeling did you get when you read the second sentence? Did you have that certain feeling, that precise feeling—not just a vague sense of resentment but also the uniquely hurtful sense of betrayal that an act of infidelity provokes? Is it possible to have such a feeling if you didn’t know what trust was, or what unfaithfulness was, or what it meant for trust to be shattered? While there may be some thoughts and feelings we can have sans language there are a great deal many more we can’t.  Even “The cat sat on the mat” turns out not to be what it seems to be.    

 Philosopher Daniel Dennett, in the early ‘90s, offered a “thought experiment” to illustrate the snags that get connected with thinking in images. Imagine he said, a purple cow, in a much detail as you can. Now say “which way was the cow facing, whether it was chewing cud, whether its udder was visible, and what exact shade of purple it was.” Dennett remarked that many respondents couldn’t answer these questions. What about you? So this time let’s get back to the cat on the mat and try describing it. Was it a Persian, Siamese or a Calico stray? Were its whiskers long or short? Did it have that smug grin of the vanishing Cheshire Cat that gave Alice advice or did it somehow look displeased about something? Did it look well fed? Was the mat a doormat? What color was it? Ws it plain or did it have a pattern? If it had a pattern could you describe it? Where was the mat, outside or inside? Was it old or new? Was it clean or dirty? 

 Now translate you thoughts into words? Could it be translated simply as “The cat sat on the mat.” Is that cat Persian, Siamese or perhaps it was a Japanese Bobtail (mike)? Was the mat tatami, rubber, or cloth? Was it a car mat, a doormat, tablemat, or a floor mat? No, you say, “It’s just a cat” and “just a mat.” But there is nothing in nature that is just a cat or just a mat. Everything that is a cat has to be some kind of cat, Persian or Japanese Bobtail or whatever, and it has to have all of its own, temporary or permanent, features. The same goes for every mat. But therein lies the rub. The more specific you describe your image, the less it is like what you intended to say. If you wanted to think the thing you were going to say, you would have had to imagine vague blobs with the tags “cat” and “mat” on them. Or, as Dennett suggests, you would think something like “I’m imaging a purple cow” or cat. But that’s thinking in words. Thus, you merely thought were thinking a thought and dressing it up in language 

david8b at 09:22コメント(5)トラックバック(0) 

March 17, 2010

                                     Introduction (4)

Ordinarily, language change is an exuberant process, which makes language develop far more machinery than they really need to—the gender markers in such languages as French and German are hardly necessary to communication, for example But this overgrowth is checked when history get in the way. For example, when people learn a language quickly, without being taught explicitly, develop a pidgin version of it; then if they need to use this pidgin on an everyday basis, it becomes a real language, called a Creole. Creoles are language starting again if you will, immediately they divide into dialects, mix with other languages, and tart building up the decorations that older languages have.



Introducion ( 5)

Just as there is an extinction crisis among many of the world’s flora and fauna, it is estimated that 5,500 of the world’s languages will no longer be spoken 90 years from now. Globalization and urbanization tend to bring people toward one of a few dozen politically dominant languages, and once a generation is not raised in language, it no longer survives except in writing—if linguists have gotten to it in time. As a language dies, it passes through a ‘pidgin’ stage on its way to expiration. This course, then, is both a celebration and a memorial of a fascinating variety of languages that is unlikely to exist for much longer.

This concludes the introduction to “What is language.” In the next installment we begin this series with a talk on what linguists mean by Language.







To lay the groundwork for this series we ought to set up before we look at the natural history of language is exactly what we mean by language. To this end, I will follow the methods linguists use to study language. It’s important to realize that as easy it is to think that language is just a collection of words, but it’s the grammar that we use to put the words together in order to convey an audience, and even in order to affect the world by the utterances that we produce.

So, for example, you could know 5,000 words in a foreign language. You could cram them all into you head with flashcards, and you still wouldn’t be able to say things like. “She might as well end it,” getting in that nuance of might as well and what that means.  Or, you probably wouldn’t know how to say, “It happened to be on a Tuesday.” In many other languages, you wouldn’t use the word for happen. That’s just one way happen happens to be used. But it’s things like that that are language; it’s something unique that we can do.


  ですからたとえば外国語の5000単語を覚えることができます。単語カードで頭の中に単語だけ詰め込んだとします。それでも、微妙な文章を理解することはできません。たとえば”She might as well end it.” のような文のmight as well の意味はわかりません。”It happened to be on a Tuesday.” このhappen の使い方はそう多くの言語では使わないでしょう。Happen のいろいろな使い方の一つです。このようなことが言語であり、独特の使われ方があるのが言語です。                  

                                      Questions to consider

What does Language (with a capital L) do for us? The most important role it has is to provide us with a representational system. By a representational system I mean an ordered picture of the world, arranged so that the items of information in it can be swiftly and easily located. A picture that divides our view of reality into named and readily recovered pieces. Is what enables us to talk about the world and, more or less, everything in it—everything, at least, that lies within the reach of our senses, and even a good deal (Cyclops, quarks, gremlins and the like) that lies outside that reach.

 And I hasten to add that there is no sense in which we could call any other so-called language (bees, trained apes, parrots, flowers, your pet pochi, etc) a representation of the world. Neither human body language nor the calls or gestures of monkeys represent the world. What they do represent is how the human or monkey individual is feeling right now, and in so doing may transmit the wants or intentions of that individual, but no more than that. Only language can constitute a representation of the whole world that a creature senses and experiences.

 Please take note of the fact that representation is logically prior to communication. We cannot communicate what we cannot first represent, because we have no symbols with which to communicate. This applies, not merely to human language, but to any of the other so-called languages already mentioned. If you were to, heaven forbid, remove the fur of an animal which expresses hostility by fluffing out its fur that animal would obviously, be unable to communicate hostility. By the same token, if we were to suffer a stroke or other trauma to the brain we would be unable to communicate linguistically.  

In the Grimm Brothers ‘Riddling Tale’ three women were changed into flowers but only one of them was allowed to go home at night. Thus, she could talk to her husband and explain to him what had happened to her and how she could be rescued. And so in the morning she returned to the field of flowers to await her husband who ws coming later that afternoon to the field to ‘gather’ her. This very brief tale had a happy ending but only because she was able to tell her husband, the night before, how to tell her apart from the other flowers in the field and thereby rescue her and live happily ever after.





具象化は意思伝達よりも先にあるという事実を覚えておいてください。わたしたちはまず初めに具象化できないものは伝達することはできません。なぜなら伝達するする手段としての記号がないからです。このことは人間の言語だけではなく、すでに述べた他の動物などの言語にも適用されます。もし、あり得るとして、動物の毛をすべて引き抜くとしたら動物は敵に対して毛を逆立てて、敵対心を表わすことができなくなります。同じく、人間も脳梗塞やトラウマなどにおかされると、言語による意思伝達ができなくなります。グリム兄弟の ‘Riddling Tale’ の話しでは3人の女性が花に変えられてしまうのですが一人だけが夜、家に帰って夫と会って話すことを許されました。しかし明け方また元に戻って花に返らなければなりませんでした。このように彼女は夫に何が起きたか、どのようにしたら助けてもらえるかを説明できました。だから彼女は救われたのでした。そして朝、彼女はあとで「迎えに来る」と言った夫を待つために畑に戻っていきました。この短い話しは彼女が前夜、他の花たちとちがって夫に伝えることができたことによって助かり、幸せに暮らすことができたということです。


david8b at 09:23コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 

February 13, 2010

David's Photo_copy_editedHuman Language, languages
and communication


An Introduction (1)


    There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world, in so much variety that many languages would astound you. Have you ever wondered just how a human being could possibly learn and use them? How did these languages come into being? What isn’t there a single language?


                Introduction (3)

The world’s languages tend to mix together on various levels. All words borrow words from another; there is no pure vocabulary. But some languages borrow so much vocabulary that there is little original material left, such as you find in English. And meanwhile, languages spoken alongside one another also trade grammar, coming to look alike the way one’s pet dog and its owner sometimes does. Some languages are even direct crosses between one language and another, two languages having ‘reproduced along the lines of mitosis. 


















































































































































































































This Blog will attempt to answer these questions (along with the essential help of the linguists John McWhorter, Derek Bickerton, Ray Jackendoff, the psychologist Steven Pinker, the zoologist Richard Dawkins, the philosopher Daniel Dennett and many others). Like animals and plants, the world’s languages are the result of a long “natural history,” which began with a single first language spoken in Africa. As human populations spread out around the globe t to new places, each migrating group’s version of the language changed in different ways, until there were several languages where there was one. In time, there were thousands.   

このブログはこれらの疑問に答えていこうとするものです。参考にするのは言語学者のJohn McWhorter, Derek Bickerton, Ray Jackendoff と 哲学者のDaniel Dennett ほか多数の学者たちです。動物や植物と同じように世界の言語はアフリカで話されていたひとつの言語から始まり、長い「自然の歴史」の結果です。人類が世界中に広がっていき、各グループの言語が違ったかたちでいくつかの言語に変わっていき、やがて何千もの言語になったのです。

                                                   Introducion (2)

Languages change in ways that make old sound into new sounds and words into grammar, and they shift in different directions, so that, in time, there are languages as different as German and Japanese. Language change is never-ending; any language is gradually on its way to changing into a new one. The language, which doesn’t gradually adapt is the one on the verge of extinction.

This kind of change is so relentless that it even creates “languages within languages.” In separate populations who speak the same language, changes differ. The result is variations upon the language—that is, dialects. Often one dialect is chosen as the standard one, and when it is used in writing, it changes more slowly than the ones that are mostly just spoken. What is that? Perhaps it is because the permanency of writing has an official look that makes change seem suspect. But the dialects that are mostly just spoken keep on changing more normal pace. 

2 言語は次のように変わっていきました。古い音から新しい音へ。古い単語から新しい単語へ古い文法から新しい文法へ。そしてそれらが異なった方向へ変化していき、ドイツ語を日本語のように異なった言語になっていきました。言語の変化は終わりがありません。いかなる言語も少しずつ変化して新しくなっていきます。徐々に適応できなくなった言語は絶滅の危機にひんしていきます。



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