Analytic languages and their function (6)
Salinas17 at aol.com
Salinas17 at aol.com
Mon May 29 15:37:03 UTC 2006
In a message dated 5/28/06 6:02:35 PM, amnfn at well.com writes:
<< Conversely, I'm not sure that beginning English speakers at the one word
stage are actually using nouns when they say things like "dog" or "ball" or
"Mommy". I don't think the category noun can have any significance if there isn't
another category to contrast it with. >>
If all the child says is "dog" or "ball" or "Mommy" and he does not connect
those words with anything in particular, yeah, he's just imitating sounds.
If however he correctly identifies a dog, a ball and Mommy and does not apply
these words to the kitchen cabinets or the trash can, then we have a clear
"contrast" -- there is Mommy and there is all that is not Mommy. There is a
ball and all that is not a ball. This is the most basic kind of definition that
we can give any item x -- x is all that is not y. This kind of "contrast" is
at the very core of perception and logic - the discrimination of stimuli so
that they achieve a less then ephemeral identity.
These words -- "dog" or "ball" or "Mommy" -- may or may not be "nouns," but
they are certainly "nominative" in the classic Aristotelian sense of a naming.
Animals, right down to amoebas, are able to perceptually distinguish
modalities in their field of perception, to "contrast" some shape or form or sound
against others, to discriminate. But most non-human animals are simply not very
adroit at creating observable symbolic equivalencies of those perceptual
modalities, whether made by sound or some other form of communal signal.
What "dog" or "ball" or "Mommy" are doing is giving those objects a NAME -- a
label, a symbolic equivalency, an independent representation made with
specific sounds. If I hide the ball and ask the child to find it and he looks for
it, that shows he has grasped the symbolic nature of the word versus the
object. This is something that some animals can do, but compared with even very
young human children, their repetoire appears to be small.
If the same child points out a running dog to me and says "run," he's
probably not using a verb, he's probably naming an action. Before the child can
start constructing noun-verb formations, he must also be able to name actions,
processes or relationships as well as objects. Otherwise there is no contiguous
material to build grammar with.
Theorists have been prone to jump to grammar and syntax in setting the
boundary of human language lately. (I'm reminded of what Frans de Waal said about
the reaction after Washoe learned ASL -- ""The linguists then came up with a
definition that emphasised syntax much more than symbols," says de Waal.
"Sometimes we feel it's a bit unfair that they move the goal posts as soon as we get
The basic mistake in this I believe is the artificial discontinuity created
between the grammatical and vocabulary. Grammar is actually a more subtle and
intricate form of naming, but it is naming none the less. Marked features are
actually shorthand descriptions of relationships in time and space that could
also be "worded-out", but are adopted for their economy.
The core of human language is a common symbolic system that approximates (to
varying degrees of accuracy) objects, processes and relationships in the real
world. Any "model" that diminishes this core nature at any point is going to
<<A one word language serves no function, and nobody will wait around to
A one word language may not get you far. But a vocabulary of about ten words
helped me survive in southeast asia -- so I'm pretty sure you're wrong about
<<Our ancestors, before they were truly human, already had a communication
system much like that of present-day primates. Do you think they would discard
it for something whose communicative function was much weaker, in the hopes of
one day working their way up to modern language?>>
So you are saying a human pidgin with the barest minimum of grammar is
"weaker" in communicative function than the "communication system" of present day
I don't think you have that quite right.
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