Posted: Mar 30, 2019 11:50 pm
by don't get me started
I was thinking a little bit about this thread and the ways that language users are simultaneously conservative regulators of the language they speak and also devil-may-care innovators. The two tendencies seem to be co-present in speakers, on-and-off, even in close proximity within a conversation.

I was reflecting on my own language use and its changes. I have noticed that I have recently started using the set expression 'I hear you' when I want to signal agreement (or partial agreement), or understanding and so on and generally affiliate with what the previous speaker has said. This is an interesting development for me. I'll explain why.

In my readings on linguistic typology a common trait of many languages is to prioritize the visual sense over the other senses in line with the unequal division of human sensory perception. ( Sight> Sound> (Touch, Smell, Taste))
This manifests itself in a complex of verbs for visual perception (see, look, watch in English) and a much simpler division for 'lesser' senses'. (Consider 'He looked at it and saw that it was damaged' vs 'He tasted it and it tasted sweet). The visual verb often gets linked to cognition as in 'I see' in English meaning 'I understand'. (I even read once that the retina is not merely a light sensitive membrane at the back of the eye, but can also be seen (!) as a 'distant outpost of the brain'.)

The visual verb seems more self-referential and internal (It is MY understanding that is the focus) whereas the auditory verb seems to be more rooted in the interaction I hear you)

My own shift from a visual verb to signal comprehension to an auditory verb to signal not just comprehension but also affiliation is an interesting example of small scale change, although I think I still use 'I see' in some situations.

Here is an interesting paper on perception and interaction for anyone interested in reading further on this topic.

Universal meaning extensions of perception verbs are grounded in interaction
Lila San Roque, Kobin H. Kendrick, Elisabeth Norcliffe and Asifa Majid