Mind your language

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Mind your language

Postby Richard » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:53 pm

The mind and language are intimately linked and often expressed and preserved by writing, disseminated in creative ways by a branch of the Arts called Literature - with forms such as Poetry, Prose, Plays (Drama) and Novels.
These are distinct from, but often connected to, other branches of the Arts, i.e. the strictly visual Arts, drawing and painting, photography, etcetera, and the performing Arts of Music and Dancing, but there is often a situation where all forms exist together, for example a Drama/Play or Opera, set to music, with creative visual stage design back-drops.

Before language had even been developed, early visual forms of Art conveyed a story, example the primitive cave drawings which may date back as far as 40,000 years, in what is termed the Palaeolithic Age.
It may be a moot point to note that the visual preceded the literary compilations requiring lingusitic skills of what may be seen as a much higher order, but certainly music was also an early form of pre-lingusitic expression also, although higher forms required written notation to both record it and develop it further.
So, then, we see that literary Arts required some sort of language that the mind could express and that the skills needed to develop a language were not present as a basic rudimentary-level ability.
Without the later development of language there could be no writing and writing was a very important step in the development of civilisations in societies where accurate methods were needed to record possessions, crops, detailed ideas etcetera and recording of crops and possessions also required some measure, via numerical means and mathematics developed alongside these basic requirements.
Even the earliest man had need of basic mathematical understanding: counting, keeping time, shape and symmetry in craft and art and recording it in some form of tabulation or writing, Whether this basic need encouraged the development of language (i,e, following on from rudimentary number notations, or 'writing' is not entirely certain but it must have acted as a strong stimulus.
Either way, writing, via the medium of language, allowed the mind to the mind to express ideas in a fluent stream, channeled into various creative forms.
Authors can write without having to understand, consciously, exactly how every thought arose except that were receptive to ideas (when the 'Muse' was smiling) and were able to make sense of them. Almost like we dream in pictures (I do anyway) and not in writing but that we can express our dreams better in writing accounts of them.

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Re: Mind your language

Postby Richard » Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:10 pm

There is no clear evidence for the way in which language arose in humans alone.
Some say that gestures preceded speech (just look at how Italians use hand movements to convey information - and actually it is quite effective in its own right) however, this has its limits and requires daylight and a direct line of sight.
So much controversy arose relating to the origins of language that, In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris banned all discussion of the evolution of language, stating that it was a waste of time to discuss something that could never be answered and because debates were becoming too lively.
Also it was important not to arouse the ire of the Catholic Church, In earlier times the official wisdom was that language came from God alone.

Some researchers are inclined to bet on primate calls rather than gestures as a likely precurser to speech, however chimpanzees - mankind's close cousins - are adept at learning forms of sign language and notorious failures when it comes to imitating human speech or even controlling their own instinctive shrieks and cries.
The question of where language comes from may simply be unanswerable, in fact we know far more about the beginning of our universe and outer space generally than the origins of language.
The Greek philosopher, Epicurus, born in Athens just a few years after the death of Plato, gives us a sense of language somehow developing along with human culture as a collaborative human activity.
250 years later, the Roman philosopher, Lucretius, had his own ideas about how humans developed language, he proposed that primitive humans who had no language skills used cries and gestures (in context) to ensure that the stronger men protected the women and children, thus implying that the earliest human communication developed for a very particular purpose.
Of course monkeys, apes, and many animals can make certain noises to show alarm and scare off predators but they never developed speech and we can only assume that an upright posture was but one vital step nearer to a starting point.
So, the early Greek philosophers considered what kind of creation language really was but the coming of Christianity, as hinted already, rather constrained such thinking in the western world.

Going beyond the Greeks, Frenchman Jean Jacques Rousseau, writing in 1755, suggested that early words would have been the names for observable objects such as trees or food, for example hunted animals, but that adjectives would have been slower to develop because of their more abstract nature.
Animals have no need of language in order to fulfill their instinctive actions and so it is through a spoken language that humans distinguished themselves from all other animals and allowed them to go on to greater things.

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Re: Mind your language

Postby seahermit » Sat Jan 13, 2018 8:51 am

Interesting stuff of course, but you have to remember that in Hastings quite a number of them can't even string a sentence together (except to order another pint), so you don't hear the most intellectual language too often!

The idea that language is exclusive to humans is not accurate, also the perception that animals have no need of language. Many animals have a sophisticated range of noises and gestures (e.g. dolphins, whales, monkeys, meercats etc. ..) which are essential in a social group for the sharing of information about food resources, dangers, territorial threats etc. and this is the whole reason for the development of communication systems.

What is unique abour humans is not that they have "language" whereas other species "don't" but the way in which humans have developed their language system from purely representative sounds and gestures into something more comple

I mean that as human intelligence expanded, it was realised that instead of representing an object of discussion by actually drawing a house or a lion (pictograms), it was even better to use a symbol to represent the sound the mouth made - which eventually developed into alphabetic characters representing sounds.

This was a vast step forward and meant that countless different words in a vocabulary could all be represented using a limited alphabet of just, say, 26 characters. (The reason that Chinese alphabets are so enormous is that they represent phrases etc.as well). It also meant that new words could be easily created and that vocabularies in theory could expand infinitely. In practice the time needed to learn a whole vocabulary is a limiting factor! Most modern languages seem to have a core of between 250,000 and 500,000 known words.

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Re: Mind your language

Postby Richard » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:18 pm

I think the difference between humans and animals in relation to language is that the latter only operate under the most basic of primitive instincts handed down to them, whereas humans have to learn a language from a slow beginning and a sometimes painful or arduous process of later education.
Humans still retain many other basic animal instincts, fighting (wars) over territory, over females, for resources.
I don't believe human intelligence has expanded as such, even over the past few million years, evolution is very slow indeed and we are still unsure what represented the first humans but they probably had much the same 'potential' as we do now.
In other words we have learned to use, via civilisation only fairly recently, what 'intelligence' we have been given by evolution, from a point so far back in time that even the fossil record is disputed and inconclusive, i.e. we have not yet found the 'missing link'.

Relating to human language and writing, it is apparent that the two went hand-in-hand to some extent, the Egyptians needed to use mathematics to calculate areas under crop, these would be written on maps with names of places and ownership.
Egyptian writing (hieroglyphs), Sumerian writing (cuniform), Chinese (oracle bone script/turtle shell scrbings, rebus and pictograms) all have interesting historical developments which, especially wrt the Chinese, may be extremely valuable to study in great detail in order to learn more about the origins of language generally.

But we are now at the point of creating 'AI' Artificial Intelligence, with powers to compute 'what-if' scenarios way ahead of any human mind to calculate, and do it almost incomprehensibly faster, thus beating 'GO' masters and also in Chess games.
OK so someone has to program the computer with its own 'language' in the first instance but AI can now calculate and 'invent' patterns we had not previously realised were possible.
Via small robotic forms machines equipped with AI can go into environments and perform tasks impossible for humans. On the stock markets of the world computer power is now running most transcations by triggering buying and selling, based on patterns they can detect and without direct human intervention.
Intelligence has not altered to produce immense technological progress, just the ingenuity of man to research, invent and improve.
It is only since 1903, when the first 'official' airplane flight was made by the Wright brothers, that we now have supersonic jets in all major countries, nuclear power and space stations, and computers (called smartphones) in just about every pocket and in every office.
The massive resources of Google, Amazon and Facebook are funneling huge amounts of money into developing new technologies and we see no end in sight.

Without the power of language, of a very superior form to that of animals, we would not have achieved such powers, undreamed of just a few short years ago.
However, with all our 'intelligence' it is sad indeed that the basic animal instinct of unrestrained (exponential, if disease or other factors fail to limit it) procreation will probably be our downfall, at some time in the near future.

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