Postal quote/directionality/talking to oneself

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Wed Nov 27 16:38:54 UTC 2002

In a message dated 11/26/02 11:16:14 PM, Matthew Anstey writes:
<< Nevertheless, I am still wary about the idea that "information flow" is
the only purpose for which language is used, ie, the only functional
principle. It would depend on what is meant by information. Wouldn't
sociolinguists observe many uses of language where information flow would
appear to be minimal? >>

The problem is that "information" is such a ubiquitous event.  In theory, the
smallest change in state can create an "information flow" to an observer.
You don't need human language.  Prairie dogs, bees and deer in mating seasons
use sounds to exchange information.  Humans whistle, hoot and scream.  If I
do nothing more than stand when a lady enters the room, I've conveyed
information.  Language is a much smaller subset than information flow.

And that means that any use of human language between individuals is of
necessity going to create "information flow".  Every word is a change of
state when a listener "observes" it.

Why would humans use language otherwise?  What purpose, intent or function --
conscious or unconsious -- can ascribe to the use of language besides the
exchange of information BETWEEN individuals?

This brings us back to talking to oneself.  This seems to be the only
circumstance where language is not overtly social.  Whether we do it silently
or out loud, the apparent outcome is not a flow of information between

My own strong suspicion is that when we talk to ourselves, we simulate the
social use of language.  We are ourselves both speaker and listener.  And
this happens I think because speech without a listener is simply not
language.  It takes two to tango or to use language.

When I remind myself to throw out the garbage or work out a math problem, I
am speaking (out loud or in my head) and I am listening.  So there is
"information flow" in the sense that talking to myself should otherwise be
unnecessary -- the information is after all already there in my brain -- why
do I need to repeat it?.  What I am actually doing is manipulating
information -- moving it around, "flowing" it -- by simulating an
interpersonal exchange.

The best indication I have of this is that I cannot talk to myself in a
language that I do not already know.  I am bi-lingual enough to be able to
talk to myself in multiple languages.  But I cannot talk to myself in a
private unknown language.  The phonology, grammar, morphology and syntax of
self-talk all follow precisely how I learned to talk socially.   (Luckily I
don't hear other voices in my head, but if I did my bet would be they would
be in English -- or maybe a ponderous, foreboding Latin.)

An obvious conclusion from this  -- to the extent it is true -- would be that
there is really no instance where the basic function of language is not
involved in conveying information (even where speaker and listener are one) -
functionally dictating that language should first all of be structured to
serve interpersonal communication.

The physiological structure of the language organs should follow that
function. Constraints should simply mark the limitations placed on language
by the physical world and the biological and physiological limitations of the
organs that evolution (and a million years of human culture) have given us to
achieve that function.

Going back to the reason that all p's don't always become f's in human
speech.  The basic reason would be that listeners are less likely to
understand words where p's have been turned into f's.  And so communication
would be the primary reason why p's stay p's.  And conversely the main reason
some p's become f's.

Steve Long

More information about the Funknet mailing list