Language and Communication

A. Katz amnfn at
Fri Apr 27 08:34:47 UTC 2007

This may be a little tangential to the discussion between Steve Long and
and J. Jain about viewing language as a series of computational type
moves, but I still think it's an important point: the objectives of
speakers and the effect of language on other speakers are not necessarily
the same. The motive for sound-to-meaning mapping on the part of speakers
can be self-expression, even though the overall effect is communication
with others.

>>From an evolutionary point of view, it is not clear that language
necessarily emerged due to the intent to communicate with others. In all
likelihood, self expression was the initial motive of speakers, even
though it was communication with others that served as the force that kept
that motive a part of our human behavioral repertoire.

We eat because we are hungry. The effect of eating is that we have enough
energy to continue to live. Copulation is motivated by sexual urges.
Procreation is the result. Almost anything necessary for the survival of
the species is motivated in the individual by a psychological need, not by
a general understanding of what filling that need will achieve. Even when
we do understand how things work, the underlying motivation is still the
primitive one.

Animal calls, from which human language may have derived, map sounds onto
meanings: the arrival of a particular kind of predator, the ripening of a
particular fruit. However, the reason individuals emit these calls is not
necessarily the intent to alert others. It is most likely that they feel
an urgent desire to express their fear or joy -- a desire so strong they
cannot master it. These cries often endanger the lives of the indviduals
emitting them, but they enhance the survival of the group.

Sitting at the table with us, Bow, a five year old chimpanzee, cannot help
emitting food cries when he gets a food he really likes. The sounds are
louder than normal dinner conversation. My seven year old
daughter keeps berating him for being rude. Bow, however, can't help
himself. The urge to make those sounds is one he cannot master. He is not
doing it to communicate with us. However, any chimpanzee within earshot
would know that he is eating -- and what.


Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, Inc, P.O. Box 267, Licking, MO
65542 USA
(417) 457-6652 (573) 247-0055

On Fri, 27 Apr 2007 Salinas17 at wrote:

> In a message dated 4/25/07 11:40:16 AM, jjain at writes:
> << I am sorry that Steve Long finds the concept of the computational
> processes of merging, adjoining etc, as "a shock" because he thinks I am describing
> language "as some kind of ever-expanding Rubik's cube,  but leaving out any
> mention of the objective of all that merging, adjoining, moving, etc."
> No, I am not leaving out of the objective. The objective is to relate sound
> and meaning (in spoken languages).  >>
> So, putting the elements together we have:
> "Language... is a cognitive object involving computation (merging, adjoining,
> moving,etc.) with word-sized units... [whose] objective is to relate sound
> and meaning..."
> So we have this "object" that's doing all these computations in order to
> "relate sound and meaning."
> So my question is... Why relate sound to meaning or meaning to sound? What
> does sound got to do with this?
> Let say we leave sound out of this for the moment.  Is this computating
> object still "language" if only meaning is involved?  Do we call it language if
> Jagdish's object is just doing computation to relate meanings to one another or
> whatever it is computing?
> If sound is one of the objectives of this "cognitive object" called language,
> well what is the sound for?  All one has to do is talk out loud to oneself to
> accomplish "language"?
> Of course, the reason sound is part of the objective is because the word
> "language" presumes that there are speakers and listeners.
> This is of course communication.
> Even Pinker has not gone so far as to "discover" a self-blooming language
> that numbers only one person.  The pigdins or creoles that supposedly support the
> LAD or UG always involve multiple speakers.  I know of no one who claims that
> learning a particular language does not involve communication.  One does not
> learn the rules of the English lexical item "put" without learning it from
> another English speaker.  Universal Grammar will not supply such information.
> And even if it did, why would it have to be turned into sound unless someone
> else is supposed to hear it.
> Now there may be a case where one person talks only to himself in his own
> personal language.  But that could not be how human language started.
> Defining language without including communication is like defining a motor
> car without mentioning that it moves and is supposed to take you from place to
> place.
> The study of syntax and of the structure of language is extremely valuable.
> But to say that language itself is not communication is to see only structure
> and not function.  And it is not even remotely plausible that language should
> be made up of sound (more properly symbol) without any need for those sounds
> to be heard.
> These purely structural view of language is pre-Darwinian precisely because
> it can give no account of how such a thing as human language could have
> developed.
> <<I hope Steve Long will come out of his "shock" that he experienced because
> of my earlier e-mail note.>>
> It's been officially upgraded to "shocked and appalled."
> Regards,
> Steve Long
>  <BR><BR><BR>**************************************<BR> See what's free at

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