Assumptions about Communication

David Tuggy david_tuggy at SIL.ORG
Thu Feb 22 07:57:13 UTC 2001

Noel Rude writes: "Surely information without intention is not

I don't at all see that as self-evident! The information that someone
is blushing is information, even though it is very unlikely to be
intentional, at least on their part. On God's part? or whose? The
information that someone's voice stopped or went rough in midsentence
is information, even if it was totally unintended by the speaker, as
sometimes happens.

But then you added, Noel, "No, I don't mean the information you might
acquire were you able to observe the
situation -- I mean information completely devoid of all intention."
Why shouldn't we/one mean the information we acquire through
observation? Must it linguistically irrelevant?

I was noticing this morning (in an odd context) the use, in a sort of
soft-rock or half-rock singing style, of an aspiration before an
initial "I", so it sounds like "hi". The lead female singer used this
repeatedly, and I remember having heard it elsewhere. I am quite sure
that it is a sort of indicator of deep feeling or great sincerity. I
wouldn't doubt at all that it arose from something in many ways like a
blush or a frog in the throat, perhaps as an unintentional sigh or
near-sob emitted at the same time as beginning a phrase about strongly
felt emotions, beginning with the word "I" or some other vowel-initial
word. It was understood (acquired through observation) as a natural
indicator of deep feeling. But it is becoming linguistic: it is now
well on its way towards conventionalization in this particular genre
at least. It originally was not intentional, I am guessing, but now,
I'm pretty sure, it often is intentional in some degree. It almost
surely is even consciously chosen for effect sometimes, perhaps even
when no strong emotion is really being felt. (If anyone hears echoes
of some of John Haiman's ideas about the inherent "insincerity and
inconsequentiality of language", they've got it right. I think such
cynicism often is warranted, though it's not the whole story.)

So it seems to me the sort of thing I think Sherman was alluding to
isn't limited to the genesis of communication in whatever prehistoric
or prehuman epoch--it happens now too.

--David Tuggy

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