Language creation

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

Moderators: Calilasseia, ADParker

Re: Re:

#101  Postby katja z » Mar 07, 2010 11:41 am

Mr.Samsa wrote: I think the reason most people think that grammar is this impossible thing to learn is mostly due to Chomsky's ridiculous "Universal Grammar" idea - fortunately science has done away with that decades ago. There's also this weird notion, even among some scientists, that language has to appear "spontaneously" otherwise it isn't True LanguageTM and that any animal studies that teach the subjects language are only useful for demonstrating how amazing we are, rather than demonstrating the language ability of animals.

The other problem is that the ape studies (Kanzi, Nim Chimpsky etc.) were all held up as the pinnacles of animal language, and whilst they were amazing demonstrations of how much they understand, they are always criticised for absurd reasons such as - "they don't understand the words they're saying, they're just repeating words back in a random order until they get what they want". In other words, the main complaint was that they didn't use grammar. The reason why this is not a valid criticism is because the apes weren't taught grammar, so to expect them to use it is just nuts. The language that the apes used is similar to the way young kids speak "Me milk!", "Now want!" etc.

Grammar obviously isn't the first thing taught to someone learning how to speak. We teach words, very basic structures and we reward them whenever it's used. Then what do we do when they reach about the age of 3-4? We respond with "Say it properly.." The child's response is then shaped into 'correct' grammatical structures and is rewarded. The apes in the studies never received this training - to them, since speaking grammatically or ungrammatically produces the same functional goals, then grammar may as well not even exist.


Yes, I remember learning about those experiments with apes in my psychology classes. I thought they were pretty impressive, but my teacher insisted that they didn't prove anything, that there was still some fundamental difference between humans and (other) animals. Oh, and humans had those special learning mechanisms and were special because they used tools and so on, you get the drift. I finally gave up and stopped arguing with him.

:lol: Yeah he isn't taken too seriously in science these days, not even in linguistics. I think after scientists spent years on a wild goose chase searching for his "Language Acquisition Device" and "Universal Grammar" they sort of gave up on him. Now he just writes books about politics I think.


Er, let me disappoint you. The people I mentioned were almost all linguists. The whole English language department at my university seems to be in love with Chomsky, and not for his political analyses!

Thanks for the link on grammar learning in pigeons! :coffee:
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: Re:

#102  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 07, 2010 12:08 pm

katja z wrote:
Yes, I remember learning about those experiments with apes in my psychology classes. I thought they were pretty impressive, but my teacher insisted that they didn't prove anything, that there was still some fundamental difference between humans and (other) animals. Oh, and humans had those special learning mechanisms and were special because they used tools and so on, you get the drift. I finally gave up and stopped arguing with him.


:lol: Yeah that's generally how the arguments go...

katja z wrote:Er, let me disappoint you. The people I mentioned were almost all linguists. The whole English language department at my university seems to be in love with Chomsky, and not for his political analyses!


Oh that's sad..

I just did some quick research and apparently he's still quite popular in the US, so I don't know whether that's where you are or whether your university is heavily influenced by American thinking but from the linguists I've spoken with they all seemed to think he was fairly irrelevant. But my area is psychology, so I only tend to converse with linguists who have some scientific agenda, such as evolutionary history, neuroscience etc. so maybe those guys are a little different. I know that in science, particularly psychology, he is looked at as a mistaken relic.

katja z wrote:Thanks for the link on grammar learning in pigeons! :coffee:


No problem. I love animal language studies :cheers:
Image
Mr.Samsa
 
Posts: 11370
Age: 35

Print view this post

Re: Re:

#103  Postby katja z » Mar 07, 2010 12:21 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote: I just did some quick research and apparently he's still quite popular in the US, so I don't know whether that's where you are or whether your university is heavily influenced by American thinking but from the linguists I've spoken with they all seemed to think he was fairly irrelevant. But my area is psychology, so I only tend to converse with linguists who have some scientific agenda, such as evolutionary history, neuroscience etc. so maybe those guys are a little different. I know that in science, particularly psychology, he is looked at as a mistaken relic.


I'm in Slovenia. I'm not so sure where those people at the English dept. get their inspiration from, but I suspect that what comes from the US would carry some special weight :scratch: Where do you live? Just so I know where on this planet I can rant about Chomsky all I want without getting excommunicated :)
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: Re:

#104  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 07, 2010 12:24 pm

katja z wrote:I'm in Slovenia. I'm not so sure where those people at the English dept. get their inspiration from, but I suspect that what comes from the US would carry some special weight :scratch: Where do you live? Just so I know where on this planet I can rant about Chomsky all I want without getting excommunicated :)


I'm in New Zealand - but perhaps my perception is tainted by the fact that my field is behavioral psychology. People in my field tend to have a particular dislike for Chomsky due to his infamous strawman representation of behaviorism in the 50s. :grin:
Image
Mr.Samsa
 
Posts: 11370
Age: 35

Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#105  Postby katja z » Mar 07, 2010 12:29 pm

Ah, now I see. Of course theories developed in the Northern hemisphere must look upside-down to you Antipodeans :grin:
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#106  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 07, 2010 12:34 pm

katja z wrote:Ah, now I see. Of course theories developed in the Northern hemisphere must look upside-down to you Antipodeans :grin:


:lol: Yes that, and also the fact that we are in the future. You guys will catch up eventually - Chomsky is wrong, a woman will win the next US election, and we have flying cars now. (Sure, the time difference is only a matter of hours but we're still very advanced!)
Image
Mr.Samsa
 
Posts: 11370
Age: 35

Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#107  Postby katja z » Mar 09, 2010 12:56 pm

@Mr. Samsa: I've been chewing on those studies on AGL in pigeons Let me see if I've got the implications right: our capacity to use grammar would be just a case of a more general pattern-recognition ability that is not confined to humans and that seems to have even evolved independently (at least) in birds and in primates, so it really isn't something extremely special or necessarily connected to human language. We just seem to have invented a new use for it and to have become really good at it. :)

I wonder if this ability to recognize and apply complex sequential regularities is also responsible for our love of narrative - for the fact that we seem to "intuitively" organise our observations and experiences into narrative sequences, and even invent hosts of stories just for the joy of narrating/listening to them.
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: Re:

#108  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 09, 2010 4:52 pm

double post
Last edited by Wezentrommel on Mar 09, 2010 4:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Wezentrommel
 
Posts: 294

Print view this post

#109  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 09, 2010 4:53 pm

crank wrote:
do you think it is possible to decipher/translate an alien language without help? By help I mean active participation of speakers, or a Rosetta Stone, or known related language (I think all lost languages have been deciphered like this)?


No, it isn't possible to decipher or translate an alien language without some help. If you are presented with a recording of an unknown foreign language you won't be able to tell when one word ends and another starts, for example.
Wezentrommel
 
Posts: 294

Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#110  Postby Tursas » Mar 09, 2010 6:24 pm

Languages can mark word boundaries with certain sounds; however, I imagine the fundamental problem would be that the mapping from sound to meaning would most likely be arbitrary, thus, it would not be possible to assign meanings to anything you would hear.
User avatar
Tursas
 
Posts: 365

Jolly Roger (arr)
Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#111  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 09, 2010 7:21 pm

katja z wrote:@Mr. Samsa: I've been chewing on those studies on AGL in pigeons Let me see if I've got the implications right: our capacity to use grammar would be just a case of a more general pattern-recognition ability that is not confined to humans and that seems to have even evolved independently (at least) in birds and in primates, so it really isn't something extremely special or necessarily connected to human language. We just seem to have invented a new use for it and to have become really good at it. :)


Yeah that's basically the gist of it.. :nod:

katja z wrote:I wonder if this ability to recognize and apply complex sequential regularities is also responsible for our love of narrative - for the fact that we seem to "intuitively" organise our observations and experiences into narrative sequences, and even invent hosts of stories just for the joy of narrating/listening to them.


It could be. There's a similar idea that tries to explain why we like music - apparently the human brain loves it when it can predict what's coming next in a song (through basic chord progressions), but it also seems to have occasional discordance or surprise as long as it "fits" into the song. I'd have to read up on it again though as I can't remember the full details of that, but it would make sense if we like hearing the words we've created, as well as the meaning behind them, and that we love structuring them in such a way that it produces a general familiarity with the odd surprise in there.
Image
Mr.Samsa
 
Posts: 11370
Age: 35

Print view this post

Re:

#112  Postby katja z » Mar 09, 2010 10:36 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
crank wrote:
do you think it is possible to decipher/translate an alien language without help? By help I mean active participation of speakers, or a Rosetta Stone, or known related language (I think all lost languages have been deciphered like this)?


No, it isn't possible to decipher or translate an alien language without some help. If you are presented with a recording of an unknown foreign language you won't be able to tell when one word ends and another starts, for example.


Well, it certainly wouldn't work with a recording! But if you actually lived in a community where that language is spoken, you would gradually pick it up, asking how things are called, observing situations of communication and so on.

It's how children learn their mother tongue after all! If you want an example of adults doing that, think for instance of those native interpreters Cortes used in his campaigns. The Spanish and the American Indians started out with no common language at all, then suddenly there were interpreters. Somebody must have learned the other's language, and quickly!
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#113  Postby katja z » Mar 09, 2010 10:43 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
It could be. There's a similar idea that tries to explain why we like music - apparently the human brain loves it when it can predict what's coming next in a song (through basic chord progressions), but it also seems to have occasional discordance or surprise as long as it "fits" into the song. I'd have to read up on it again though as I can't remember the full details of that, but it would make sense if we like hearing the words we've created, as well as the meaning behind them, and that we love structuring them in such a way that it produces a general familiarity with the odd surprise in there.


Yes, I've been thinking of that too. In this sense, music would be a lot like play, actually - a "simulated" situation that allows you to explore your ability to detect patterns, learn how to do it even better, but without any consequences if you fail, since it is not for real. And you get rewarded by it too - it's fun! :grin:
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#114  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 10, 2010 5:52 pm

Tursas wrote:Languages can mark word boundaries with certain sounds;


I'm not sure that is actually true of any natural language, but even if it was you would need to know what the sound was.
Wezentrommel
 
Posts: 294

Print view this post

Re: Re:

#115  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 10, 2010 5:54 pm

katja z wrote:

Well, it certainly wouldn't work with a recording! But if you actually lived in a community where that language is spoken, you would gradually pick it up, asking how things are called, observing situations of communication and so on.


But the question was, could you learn a language without the help of a native speaker.
Wezentrommel
 
Posts: 294

Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: Re:

#116  Postby Agrippina » Mar 10, 2010 5:59 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
katja z wrote:

Well, it certainly wouldn't work with a recording! But if you actually lived in a community where that language is spoken, you would gradually pick it up, asking how things are called, observing situations of communication and so on.


But the question was, could you learn a language without the help of a native speaker.


Surely in order to hear the sounds and inflexions you need to hear it spoken by a native speaker. You can't learn to speak a language by merely being able to read it.

Archeologists needed the Rosetta Stone to be able to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphics, they weren't able to read them without it.
Illegitimi non carborundum
User avatar
Agrippina
 
Posts: 36690
Age: 110
Female

Country: South Africa
South Africa (za)
Print view this post

Re: Re:

#117  Postby katja z » Mar 10, 2010 6:21 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
katja z wrote:

Well, it certainly wouldn't work with a recording! But if you actually lived in a community where that language is spoken, you would gradually pick it up, asking how things are called, observing situations of communication and so on.


But the question was, could you learn a language without the help of a native speaker.


You're right. I got carried away. Thanks for reminding me.


Tursas wrote:Languages can mark word boundaries with certain sounds;


I'm not sure that is actually true of any natural language, but even if it was you would need to know what the sound was.


I agree with Wezentrommel here. No language I know of (mostly Indo-European, admittedly) marks word boundaries with specific sounds. On the contrary, in speech, word boundaries are often treated phonetically just like syllable boundaries within the same word (French and Portuguese come to mind). In some languages individual words in an utterance are stressed (English is a case in point) so you could distinguish them on that basis to some extent, but in some languages a whole syntactic unit carries just one stress (French).

Tursas, do you have a concrete example? It would be interesting to know.
User avatar
katja z
RS Donator
 
Posts: 5353
Age: 40

European Union (eur)
Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#118  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 10, 2010 7:28 pm

You can't learn to speak a language by merely being able to read it.

Well, to be technical and picky, one could probably achieve understandable fluency in most languages if one's "reading" included some sort of a key (like the IPA) which compared the sounds -- and the written representation of them -- in the new language to the sounds already familiar to the novice speaker from his or her own language (or other languages with which the speaker had some acquaintance, e.g., if you told me that a given sound x was to be pronounced in the back of the throat "like the German 'ch' in 'Bach'," or even if you told me that a given consonant was to be, whatever, produced with the tip of the tongue against the lingual aspect of the incisors, voiceless, aspirated, ... I'm probably abusing some of those terms! :lol: ).

I of course agree that this would not produce perfect "native" fluency.

And if our example is to be a situation where it's ambiguous or unknown what sounds are represented by what symbols, then clearly we don't have an IPA-like key to read from, in which case the quoted statement stands.
Steviepinhead
 
Posts: 326

Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#119  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 10, 2010 8:02 pm

Steviepinhead wrote:
You can't learn to speak a language by merely being able to read it.

Well, to be technical and picky, one could probably achieve understandable fluency in most languages if one's "reading" included some sort of a key (like the IPA) which compared the sounds -- and the written representation of them -- in the new language to the sounds already familiar to the novice speaker from his or her own language (or other languages with which the speaker had some acquaintance, e.g., if you told me that a given sound x was to be pronounced in the back of the throat "like the German 'ch' in 'Bach'," or even if you told me that a given consonant was to be, whatever, produced with the tip of the tongue against the lingual aspect of the incisors, voiceless, aspirated, ... I'm probably abusing some of those terms! :lol: ).

I of course agree that this would not produce perfect "native" fluency.

And if our example is to be a situation where it's ambiguous or unknown what sounds are represented by what symbols, then clearly we don't have an IPA-like key to read from, in which case the quoted statement stands.


In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.
Wezentrommel
 
Posts: 294

Print view this post

Re: Language creation

#120  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 10, 2010 8:15 pm

I admit that I have NOT read all pages of this interesting thread, but only indulged in a sampling. The "isolate" (in the sense of "unrooted") vs. mother-tongue discussion may thus well be moot, for all I know.

In my sampling, however, I did not see much in the way of a realistic discussion of where a given population of language-capable speakers is supposed to have "come from."

Just as in the biological evolution and speciation of populations, all populations of language-capable persons descend from some earlier population, who descend from some still earlier population, etc. ....

Thus there are no "isolate" populations, though of course there can be "isolated" populations. Every population of humans "connects up" to every other population of humans through common ancestry. The indigenous australians or polynesians or aztecs or fuegians did not just suddenly appear in those far-flung places, isolated from the rest of humanity. They migrated there from some previously-settled place.

The spread of humanity from a common source in Africa has been pretty well documented, not just through linguistic and cultural comparisons, but via increasingly fine-grained physical anthropological, dental, blood group, protein marker, mitochondrial DNA, nuclear DNA, SNP analysis, etc.

The Australians were in southeast asia before they were in Australia, and before that spread out of Africa. The bulk of native americans likely also came up along the western Pacific coasts out of southeast asia, up along the northwest Pacific coast (possible affinities to the indigenous Ainu populations of Hokkaido and the Sakhalins...), and thence across land bridges or coastwise island-hopping -- if, as seems increasingly likely, the migration preceded the end of the last Ice Age -- down the west coast of the Americas. The Polynesians also originate in southeast asia. Various eurasian and european populations spread up through the mideast and then took various paths west or east or north into various parts of europe and asia. The Na-Denes may have spread widely across mid-latitude eurasia before spreading across the Bering strait into northwestern North America and thence down the coast and intermountain west as far as the Southwest U.S. The Aleut-Inuit came from northern Eurasia and spread eastward across the arctic and subarctic in the past few thousand years...

While we are learning more detail all the time, the general outlines are in most cases now pretty clear. Certainly room remains for lots of arguments about the developing details, but it is at least not impossible to identify a population (by physical markers) which could conceivably have entered into the mid-latitudes of eurasia at a relatively early date, somewhere in the vicinity of the Caucasus, hypothetically, and then spread west as far as, say, Basque country and east as far as Na-Dene territory in NW North America.

This doesn't mean that Basque, certain vanishing Caucasian languages, and the Na-Dene languages -- or the populations who now speak those languages -- are long-lost cousins (but "closer" than they are to the populations within which they now find themselves embedded). But it's potentially a testable premise.

Thus, there's an ambiguity to what has been termed an "isolate" language. Maybe its a language that arose "in situ," without any antecedent which would connect it, however distantly, to other languages/language families -- like Athena springing forth from the brow of Zeus. But, more likely, it's an "isolate" only because those far-past connections to other languages are simply separated by too much time, and too many intermediate "extinct" groups of speakers, for us to reconstruct the connections.

There are inherent limitations to how far "back" we can rewind the tape of language common ancestry (assuming that there is a common ancestry of most/all languages) -- it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish homologous cognates from randomly-similar "convergences" of sound or structure the further back you go into the past. And the many sparsely-recorded (a few dozen entries in some strange personal orthology in some missionary's journal) and rapidly-vanishing languages don't help: the "fossil record" is quickly eroding away, and the "molecular genetic" data on the remaining extant languages is in many cases very scanty.

But it's one thing to say that the connections can no longer, as a pragmatic matter, be reconstructed, and another thing to say that there never were any connections (even if the latter statement is restricted to just a few "isolated" cases).

It does sometimes happen that an almost completely "new" language springs up (though still with discernible borrowings of vocabulary and syntax from predecessors), in quasi-"Lord of the Flies" scenarios, where speakers of many different languages are thrown together willy-nilly (slaves -- or even traders or colonizers -- brought from disparate linguistic backgounds, with no predominant common language, who first generate a "pidgin," and then, in subsequent generations produce a fuller, more-flexible, and more "grammatical" creole, which then evolves into a complete and freestanding language).

And one can even imagine scenarios, like the fertilized-egg-carrying mother bird being storm-blown to an ocean island, where a language arises in a strange new place with very few surviving adult speakers of the language of origin, leaving subsequent generations to expand upon a very impoverished sketch of a native language...though it's hard to make this work with few or no competent adults and a raft-load of pre-linguistic infants.

Finally, if one goes back far enough into the evolution of anatomically-modern humans, one could suppose a spread of populations just on the physical verge of language -- the genetic and neuromuscular hardware is all in place, and primitive gestural and pre-grammatical communicating systems are in place, but syntactical, grammatical language has not yet emerged in the parent population -- who then become physically "isolated" in various far-flung locales prior to then undergoing separate/independent "language emergence" events...

While I suppose something like that could not be ruled out in every case of some small and early founding population of otherwise-anatomically modern humans launching out from Africa, it seems to me increasingly unlikely given the reconstruction of the history of human migration (in which peripheral subpopulations on the "gust front" of the wave of settlement can all be physically linked back to earlier populations with less-derived physical markers) and the archaeology of human symbolic representation. Previously confined to European cave-painting and the like, the cultural markers of symbolic thinking can now be traced back into Africa at times which, in all likelihood, well precede the outward wave of population migration.

Thus, the evidence seems to me to support a scenario where anatomically-modern humans in Africa had already achieved language before spreading to the far corners of the earth. Those spreading subpopulations would already be speaking descendant languages, just as they carried descendant genomes. The !San languages of Africa would be just as derived from the languages spoken by the parental African population as would be Polynesian or Amerind or Na-Dene or Afroasiatic or Austronesian or Indo-European languages.

Communities of language speakers are descended from previous communities of language speakers, just as subpopulations of humans are descended from previous parental populations of humans.

We should be no more astonished at the variety of languages, about the "splitting" and "sub-splitting" of a language clade, than we are by the variety of species in the biosphere, or by the variety of hair and eye and skin colors and other physical markers which identify derived subpopulations at the same time as they unite humans in common ancestry.
Last edited by Steviepinhead on Mar 10, 2010 8:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Steviepinhead
 
Posts: 326

Print view this post

PreviousNext

Return to Linguistics

Who is online

Users viewing this topic: No registered users and 1 guest