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Apr
7th
Sun
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We think not in words but in shadows of words.
Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian-American novelist (1899-1977), Strong Opinions, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Feb 16, 2011.
Mar
27th
Wed
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" "Daniel C. Dennett favours the theory (first suggested by Richard Dawkins) that our social learning has given us a second information highway (in addition to the genetic highway) where the transmission of variant cultural information (memes) takes place via differential replication. Software viruses, for example, can be understood as memes, and as memes evolve in complexity, so does human cognition: “The mind is the effect, not the cause.” (…)

Daniel Dennett: “Natural selection is not gene centrist and nor is biology all about genes, our comprehending minds are a result of our fast evolving culture. Words are memes that can be spoken and words are the best example of memes. Words have a genealogy and it’s easier to trace the evolution of a single word than the evolution of a language.”
Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, Daniel Dennett: ‘I don’t like theory of mind’ – interview, The Guardian, 22 March 2013.
See also:  Daniel C. Dennett on an attempt to understand the mind; autonomic neurons, culture and computational architecture, Lapidarium notes
Jun
20th
Wed
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We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems of our minds.

We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language (…) all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.
Benjamin Whorf,  American linguist (1897-1941), Science and Linguistics, first published in 1940 in MIT Technology Review
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The crucial point is that everything that we see in the right half of our vision is processed in the left hemisphere of our brain, and everything we see in the left half is processed by the right hemisphere. And for most of us, the left brain is stronger at processing language. So perhaps the language savvy half of our brain is helping us out. (…) Among those who were the fastest at identifying the odd color, English speakers showed no left brain / right brain distinction, whereas Korean speakers did. It’s plausible that their left brain was attuned to the distinction between yeondu and chorok. (…)

Language is somehow enhancing your left brain’s ability to discern different colors with different names. Cultural forces alter our perception in ever so subtle a way, by gently tugging our visual leanings in different directions. (…) As infant brains are rewiring themselves to absorb our visual language, the seat of categorical processing jumps hemispheres from the right brain to the left. And it stays here throughout adulthood. Their brains are furiously re-categorizing the world, until mysteriously, something finally clicks into place.
May
27th
Sun
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Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina’s delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat — was, literally, talked into life.
Michael Chabon, American author, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Random House, 2000.
May
18th
Fri
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The unique method of repeating kanji in a grid pattern in poem "Ame" (Rain). As part of the wave of modernism that swept over all fields of art in the 20th century, poets boldly began to analyze language structurally instead of merely concentrating on its semantic content. (The Concrete Poetry of Niikuni Seiichi)

Concrete poetry or shape poetry is poetry in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem, such as meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on. The French poet Pierre Guarnieri, collaborating with the Japanese poet Seiichi Niikuni, also used the term spatiality in relation to concrete poetry, implying that the white space between words also holds meaning. Poets emphasized that language is not only a means of communication, but that language also has a material dimension. (Wiki)
Seiichi Niikuni, Japanese poet and painter. He was one of the foremost pioneers of the international avant-garde concrete poetry movement (1925-1977), "Ame" (Rain), Post-War Japanese Poetry, Penguin Books, 1972.
May
17th
Thu
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Norbert Wiley on the Inner Speech as a Language

The language of thought drawing by Robert Horvitz

“The gap between outer langue and inner speech is greater than that between outer langue and outer speech. (…)

We are little gods in the world of inner speech. We are the only ones, we run the show, we are the boss. This world is almost a little insane, for it lacks the usual social controls, and we can be as bad or as goofy as we want. On the other hand inner speech does have a job to do, it has to steer us through the world. That function sets up outer limits, even though within those limits we have a free rein to construct this language as we like. (…)

Although inner speech is not idealism, in some ways it seems to be a more differentially defined universe than outer speech. Linguistic context is even more important than in outer speech. One reason is that meaning is so condensed on the two axes. But a second is that inner language is so pervaded with emotion. (…)

This language is so rooted in the unique self that an eavesdropper, could there be one, would not fully understand it. It has so much of one’s person in it, a listener would have to be another you to follow it. And if someone invented a window into consciousness, a mind-reading machine, that could invade one’s privacy, would they be able to understand the, now revealed, inner speech? I think not. They might be able to understand most of the words, but the non-linguistic or imagistic elements would be too much a personal script to follow. If this eavesdropper watched you, including your consciousness, for your whole life, had access to your memory and knew your way of combining non-linguistic representations with words, they might have your code, but this is another way of saying they would be another you. In practical terms inner speech would be inaccessible in its meaning even if it were accessible in its signifying forms. (…)

The importance of private language is that it sheds light on what a human being is. We are inherently private animals, and we become more so the more self-aware and internally communicative we are. This zone of privacy may well be the foundation for the moral (and legal) need people have for privacy. In any case the hidden individuality or uniqueness of each human being is closely related to the what the person says to him or her self. (…)

Inner speech is both the locus and platform for agency. (…) We choose internally in the zone of inner speech, and then we choose externally in the zone of practical action and the outer world. The first choice leads to the second choice. (…) We could make and break habits by first modelling them in our internal theater.” “
Norbert Wiley, professor emeritus of Sociology at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkley. He is a prize-winning sociologist who has published on both the history and systematics of theory, cited in ☞ Do thoughts have a language of their own? The language of thought hypothesis, May, 2012.
Apr
25th
Wed
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Theodor W. Adorno: ‘There is no element in which language resembles music more than in the punctuation marks’

“The less punctuation marks, taken in isolation, convey meaning or expression and the more they constitute the opposite pole in language names, the more each of them acquires a definitive physiognomic status of its own, an expression of its own, which cannot be separated from its syntactic function but is by no means exhaused by it. (…)

Even text, even the most densely woven, cites them of its own accord — friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language. There is no element in which language resembles music more than in the punctuation marks. The comma and the period correspond to the half-cadence and the authentic cadence. Exclamation points are like silent cymbal clashes, question marks like musical upbeats, colons dominant seventh chords; and only a person who can perceive the different weights of strong and weak phrasings in musical form can really feel the distinction between the comma and the semicolon. (…)

Literary dilettantes can be recognized by their desire to connect everything. Their products hook sentences together with logical connectives even though the logical relationship asserted by those connectives does not hold. To the person who cannot truly conceive anything as a unit, anything that suggests disintegration or discontinuity is unbearable; only a person who can grasp totality can understand caesuras.

But the dash provides instruction in them. In the dash, thought becomes aware of its fragmentary character. It is no accident that in the era of the progressive degeneration of language, this mark of punctuation is neglected precisely insofar as it fulfills its function: when it separates things that feign a connection. All the dash claims to do now is to prepare us in a foolish way for surprises that by that very token are no longer surprising. (…) The test of a writer’s sensitivity in punctuating is the way he handles parenthetical material.” “
Theodor W. Adorno, German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory of society (1903-1969), Punctuation marks (pdf) (Illustration)
Apr
5th
Thu
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Each of us sees the world with the eyes he possess, and eyes see what they choose to see, eyes create the world’s diversity and fabricate its wonders. (…)

What we call meaning is no more than a fleeting collection of images that once seemed harmonious, images on which the intelligence tried in panic to introduce reason, order, coherence.

Words become inadequate as we get closer to the frontiers of the inexpressible, we try to say love and the word will not come out, we try to say I want and we say I cannot, we try to utter the final word only to realize that we have gone back to the beginning.
Jose Saramago, Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist (1922-2010), The Stone Raft, Mariner Books, 1996.
Apr
1st
Sun
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Last Two Speakers of Dying Language Refuse to Talk to Each Other


“The survival of an endangered language may depend on two people — and all they want to do is ignore each other.

Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquez, the last speakers of a language called Ayapaneco, live less than half a mile away from each other in Ayapa, Mexico. But no matter how precious the cultural implications of keeping their language alive are, they are not going to speak to each other. (…) The Guardian notes that, “It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.”

Ayapaneco is one of many dozens of indigenous languages remaining in Mexico. Perhaps the most extreme case, it managed to survive the Spanish conquest in Mexico. Sixty-eight native languages are still in use today, although a handful are on the verge of extinction.

Regardless, linguists are still attempting to preserve the language despite the lack of communication between the last two fluent speakers, who no longer converse with anyone regularly in their native tongue. When Segovia, 75, and Velazquez, 65, both die, their language will pass away with them.

Still, Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist, sums up their relationship succinctly: “They don’t have a lot in common.
— Erica Ho, Last Two Speakers of Dying Language Refuse to Talk to Each Other, TIME, April 18, 2011. (Photo: Indigenous women from the Tzotzil tribe sit together in Acteal, Mexico, REUTERS / Rene Araujo)
Mar
19th
Mon
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What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? (…) The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. (…) These pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains. (…)

They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain. (…) Human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior. (…)

Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens. (…) Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.

Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.
Jan
13th
Fri
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Why would someone learn 20 or 50 languages?

“Hyperpolyglot, Alexander Arguelles (…) wants to explore his consciousness, to encounter a language as a living entity, and to collect the esoteric knowledge of these encounters. “Most of the languages I’ve studied I’ve never spoken, and I probably never will,” he told me. “And that’s okay with me. That’s nice if you can do that, but it’s rare that you have an interesting conversation in English. Why do I think it would be any better in another language?
Jan
11th
Wed
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Language plays a tremendous role in human affairs. It serves as a means of cooperation and as a weapon of conflict. With it, men can solve problems, erect the towering structures of science and poetry – and talk themselves into insanity and social confusion.
— Irving J. Lee, lecturer, teacher, former professor at Northwestern University (1909-1955), cited in Martin H. Levinson; ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 55, 1998, Opium: A History, Questia Online Library
Jan
7th
Sat
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Isn’t language loss a good thing, because fewer languages mean easier communication among the world’s people? Perhaps, but it’s a bad thing in other respects. Languages differ in structure and vocabulary, in how they express causation and feelings and personal responsibility, hence in how they shape our thoughts. There’s no single purpose “best” language; instead, different languages are better suited for different purposes.

For instance, it may not have been an accident that Plato and Aristotle wrote in Greek, while Kant wrote in German. The grammatical particles of those two languages, plus their ease in forming compound words, may have helped make them the preeminent languages of western philosophy.

Another example, familiar to all of us who studied Latin, is that highly inflected languages (ones in which word endings suffice to indicate sentence structure) can use variations of word order to convey nuances impossible with English. Our English word order is severely constrained by having to serve as the main clue to sentence structure. If English becomes a world language, that won’t be because English was necessarily the best language for diplomacy.
Jared Diamond, American scientist and author, currently Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal, Hutchinson Radius, 1991. See also: ☞ Why Do Languages Die? Urbanization, the state and the rise of nationalism
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“It [writing] has enormous meta-cognitive implications. The power is this: That you cannot only think in ways that you could not possibly think if you did not have the written word, but you can now think about the thinking that you do with the written word. There is danger in this, and the danger is that the enormous expressive and self-referential capacities of the written word, that is, the capacities to keep referring to referring to referring, will reach a point where you lose contact with the real world.

And this, believe me, is very common in universities. There’s a technical name for it, I don’t know if we can use it on television, it’s called “bullshit.” But this is very common in academic life, where people just get a form of self-referentiality of the language, where the language is talking about the language, which is talking about the language, and in the end, it’s hot air. That’s another name for the same phenomenon.” “
John Rogers Searle, American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, Language, Mind and Consciousness (interviews) (Illustration: Univers Font Study on the Behance Network)