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Universals of language

Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 5:28 pm
by Windwalker
Most linguists subscribe to Noam Chomsky's theory of a universal language structure. Recently, missionary-turned-researcher Daniel Everett described an Amazon tribe, the Pirahã, that seem to lack at least one language basic (called recursion). They also do not have numbers, their society apparently lacks coercion and they are strict empiricists (though they are also animists). To those familiar with my Embers universe, they sound like a combination between Western rationalists and proto-Koredháni.

Daniel Everett, now a department chair, recently wrote an article discussing language, the Pirahã and his own transformations during this experience. Although long, the article makes for fascinating reading.

Recursion and human thought

Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2007 10:51 pm
by Walden2
'The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language'


Reviewed by EMILY EAKIN

Is there a scientific explanation for the human ability to
use language?

Review: ... 8bu&emc=bu

Posted: Mon Nov 12, 2007 12:09 am
by Walden2
Australian Scientists Begin to Crack Whale Code

Cetaceans are known to be among the most clever and intelligent of all mammals. They have brains that are roughly the same size as humans or larger, which are similarly or superiorly complex (although differently evolved in structure). This has led some marine biologists to speculate that whales, and other Cetaceans, could be as intelligent as humans, and may even have several unknown communicative abilities, that surpass our current understanding through sonar and other means.

Critics say that if cetaceans were as smart as us there’d be more evidence of it. But what type of evidence would suffice? The fact that Cetaceans are suffering from (rather than creating) the kind of environmental suicide that humans indulge in, is not necessarily proof of inferiority.

Full article here: ... -scie.html

Posted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 6:53 pm
by intrigued_scribe
These are all highly fascinating articles; thanks for sharing them. :) What stands out to me--among many other aspects found therein, particularly the Piraha's "no coercion" principle--is the fact that language can indicate more than one type of intelligence, as opposed to the kind of sentience that one might usually think of.


Posted: Wed Dec 26, 2007 9:41 pm
by Walden2
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language

How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

David W. Anthony

To read the entire book description or a sample chapter, please visit:

Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.

Cloth | $35.00 / £19.95 | ISBN: 978-0-691-05887-0

Posted: Thu Dec 27, 2007 2:14 pm
by intrigued_scribe
This sounds like an excellent, engaging look at how roots of language link many a culture (and in this case, the evolving offshoots of one early language); thanks for the recommendation. :)


Posted: Thu Jan 03, 2008 7:11 pm
by Walden2
The Genetics of Language

Technology Review January/February 2008


Neurogeneticists have begun to
tease out how we evolved the
capacity for sophisticated speech,
using improved techniques for
detecting DNA, cutting-edge
analytical tools, and the genome
sequences of species from humans to
mice.... ... 35&m=25748

Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 12:14 pm
by Walden2
Is Language a Window into Human Nature?

"I told him to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words."

Woody Allen

Is the gap between objective and inner reality the reason we have difficulty understanding large numbers, the way statistics works, scientific theories like quantum physics or how to navigate the complexities of modern society, which is so different from a small tribe of hunter-gatherers?

Harvard cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist, Steven Pinker's new book, The Stuff of Thought examines what it is we have been able to find out about the mysterious, intuitive ways in which the human mind works using the most unique characteristic of our species, language, as the main source of information.

Deeply ingrained in all the world's languages are conceptions about sex, intimacy, power,fairness--as well as ideas of divinity, degradation, and danger. This intuitive model of reality is a product of natural selection: the way it parses the world around us, the way it uses shortcuts and assumptions would have served our hunter-gatherer ancestors well, but it is less than perfect for dealing with some of the problems we face in the 21st Century.

Full article here: ... s-a-w.html

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2008 8:59 pm
by Walden2
Why Language Is All Thumbs

Chip Walter



Toolmaking not only resulted in
tools, but also the reconfiguration
of our brains so they comprehended
the world on the same terms as our
toolmaking hands interacted with it.
With mirror neurons, something
entirely new entered the world:
memes--a far more effective and
speedy method for pooling knowledge
and passing it around than the old
genetic way. ... 12&m=25748

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2008 5:27 pm
by Windwalker
Mirror neurons seem to be the latest candidates for a biological "theory of everything" -- that is, if the original conclusions stand up, they may be at the basis of empathy, language, learning by imitation in general and ability to create a theory of mind.

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:04 am
by Walden2
Language Feature Unique To Human Brain Identified (March 24, 2008)

Researchers have identified a language feature unique to the human brain that is shedding light on how human language evolved. The study marks the first use of diffusion tensor imaging, a noninvasive imaging technique, to compare human brain structures to those of chimpanzees, our closest living relative. ... > full story ... 210220.htm