Analytic languages and their function. (4)
Salinas17 at aol.com
Salinas17 at aol.com
Sat May 27 21:56:16 UTC 2006
In a message dated 5/27/06 2:06:07 AM, amnfn at well.com writes:
<< Why prepositions and syntax? It still seems as if you are imagining early
language as a pidgin working its way up to a creole.>>
If by "pidgin" you mean a human language with the simplest possible grammar,
that would be a good place to start. In theory at least, what you have in a
pidgin is humans building a language from scratch. The forms that a pidgin
takes would apparently indicate what steps are the first steps in establishing a
comprehensible language among a human group. Those first steps do not show
full blown grammar. Tense, for example, is often left out of the communication.
("nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on tend to have only one invariant
phonological form... The verbal root itself does not express any particular tense or
aspect. When used in a clause, it is up to the listener to interpret this
aspect of meaning in accord with the context.") From that we might conclude that
concepts like tense are on the next level of discrimination, after a basic
common reference is established. Whether they are later injected into the
language by way of affixes or compounding or by way of syntax is another matter.
<<But animal cries, even those of our closest relatives, tend to be holistic,
in the sense that a whole sentence is communicated with a single word, as is
the case in the most synthetic of human languages. >>
Why start with animal cries? Why not start with the rather sophisticated
communal cooperation and communication that bees need to build a bee hive? If
anyone needs to communicate in "sentences," they do. There are many better
examples of animal communication than "cries." There are many instances where a
single signal can trigger all by itself a whole bevy of elaborate behaviors.
These "single words" must embed very, very complex sentences indeed!
Whether or or not primates are speaking in synthetic languages and capable of
expressing complex sentences in a single word, it looks pretty clear that
humans, when they start languages from scratch, speak in something somewhat akin
to what are called "analytic" languages.
The obvious reason for this is that common reference must be established
first. Before we can communicate, we need to be confident that the words we use
refer to the same things for both of us. This is a condition precedent to all
the nuances we find in modern human languages -- it is certainly a condition
precedent to the situation we find in the highly synthetic Latin verb
structure, in which a single verb can take 118 different forms.
As far as animal cries go, whether I'm yelling "Tiger!" or "Fire!," the
shorthand really doesn't have too much to do with implied or encoded whole
sentences. The obvious use of the "word" is intended to have immediate behavioral
consequences, not to mark tense, mood or aspect. Analytic versus synthetic is
really irrelevant. Crying "tiger!" or "fire!" is simply making use of
language's representational power. The words are symbols standing in for the real
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