The languages of animalmind

From: Dan Moonhawk Alford
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 14:51:41
To: animalmind@lists.derby.ac.uk


Hey, all! Moonhawk showing up for the first time here. Sam dragged me over from the Evolution of Language list because of the flak we got when we tried to look at similarities between humans and other animals when it comes to "language" instead of only the part that's unique to humans. You should be able to guess by now that I'm a linguist; I hang out at the intersection of language, consciousness, Native America and modern physics (and a lonely intersection it is!), and I admire Benjamin Whorf much more than Chomsky, whose paradigm I was trained into back in the '60s at UCLA. The first crack in the paradigm, for me, was when I went to Montana and lived with the Northern Cheyenne Indians for four years (summer AND winter!); that slowly began turning my head around about 180 degrees, and even UC Berkeley didn't know what to do with me after that -- because of my experience, I could see right through the Whorf Hypothesis Hoax that had been building up in academe while I was in country, keeping generations of graduate students in multiple disciplines from reading Whorf's insights for themselves.

The second crack in the paradigm happened when I saw the "Manufacturing Consent" video about Chomsky, and damn if he didn't, right in the middle where he showed with bullet points how the media did it, give away the secret of how he, Noam, took over linguistics in the '60s by manufacturing consent, limiting the discourse. One major limiting definition was the fundamental vocabulary item of the discipline: language.

Whereas linguistics cannot exist except by balancing form and meaning, Chomsky took form as primary for his definition -- the syntax found only in human language now defined the term language. "Language" is merely shorthand now for "human language" defined in terms of a structure that only humans use. It also, however, makes for totally ridiculous statements when you substitute the full form: "Language is what separates humans from [the other] animals" becomes "Human language is what separates humans..." -- hm! not the same force.

Note also that the crucial part of meaning seems to have been banished to a kind of look-up status -- AS IF we form instantly thousands of possible structures for saying something, somehow choose one which will fit, then look-up words to fit into the structure. How different from starting with MEANING -- with some vague intention of what you want to say and then going from there.

Another reason Chomsky's (and therefore most academics') use of "language" is so impoverished is that everything we share with the rest of creation is ignored, including bodily posture, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and the entire area of how children talk and how idioms and other formulaic speech just don't fit Chomsky's syntactic machinery. If someone tells you something and then winks, you know to take the meaning as exactly opposite; if someone tells you something with a sarcastic tone of voice, you know to take the literal words a different direction. And did you know according to Chomskyites that our own children don't speak actual human language? They speak proto-language, because it doesn't have the complex syntactic structures. Chomsky's machinery cannot explain why, by simply substituting a definite for indefinite article in "John fell off a wagon last week," the resulting sentence can no longer rely on its full meaning coming from the individual meanings of the words -- "John fell off the wagon last week" inexplicably brings up the frame of an alcoholic who went through a period of sobriety and has now resumed drinking: all without ever even obliquely referring to alcohol! It has been shown over the decades that Chomsky and his followers cannot deal with this kind of idiom. WHY?

In my evolutionary model of language and consciousness, which isn't possible in a Chomskyan universe because what's shared is ignored and what's unique is all that fits the definition, we are in command of four languages, each with its own qualitative kind of grammar, thinking processes, and consciousness.

*delta language: posture, gestures, facial expressions, etc -- I associate this with delta-rhythm brainwaves and with the oldest evolutionary brain, often called Reptilian brain or R-Complex.

*theta language: emotions in tunes and body language -- I associate this with theta-rhythm brainwaves and with the limbic system, both of which are known to be involved whenever emotions are being processed.

*alpha language: idioms, small-talk, phatic communication and children's talk: I associate this with alpha-rhythm brainwaves and with the normal lateralized right hemisphere, which is less linear and more global. This is also the source of SIMPLE syntax, which is controlled by the verb: "sleep" can have oe noun dancing around it; "hit" can have two; "give" can have three. The old Phrase Structure Rules of Chomsky are alpha level while Transformations are beta. Much work in Second Language Learning right now is focusing on the difference between these two levels (also can be called conversational vs formal literate levels of language).

*beta language: what Chomsky calls language, the formal aspects of adult human speech; I associate this with beta-rhythm brainwaves and the normal lateralized left hemisphere. This is basically how strangers talk to each other for greatest intelligibility and formality.

Like the brainwaves themselves, these are usually found together in some mix or another at any given time. For the developmentalists in the crowd (Takahashi), this is a developmental evolution, and the levels correspond to Piaget's developmental stages of thinking: delta/sensorimotor; theta/pre-operational; alpha/concrete-operations, beta/formal-operations.

Chomsky, Pinker, and ilk DESPERATELY want for something to be innate, but they haven't the damndest idea what it might be because they banished the levels that are actually innate and shared evolutionarily -- delta, theta, and alpha languages. Remember how, when John fell off his wagon, you couldn't make up the meaning from the pieces but had to get it somehow from the entire utterance? Guess what?! That's exactly the same description that's used about animal communication: it's not analytically decomposible; the meaning belongs to the entire utterance in a more global way! So the reason we can't call that language is that we are ignoring that we also do it!

There's more to the model, including body synchrony (a la the Condon synchrony stop-action videos in Philadelphia) and "rapport", which is something like what's been calld telepathy, a requirement for non-local communication in modern physics (EPR, Bell), and a place for IHS, interhemispheric synchronization.

With all of that as background, I contend that animal mind is just like human mind except without functional hemispheric lateralization (we don't know enough about cetacean mind yet to include them in this generality) -- that for each animal, down to at least reptiles (we can extend that later), the language(s) they perform and comprehend have something to do with the number of brainminds they have, and each brainmind language has grammatical structure of its own kind and its own thinking processes.

Okay -- what would you like to confirm or dispute?

warm regards, moonhawk