Skip to comments.Studies of Amazonian languages challenge linguistic theories
Posted on 08/09/2005 10:57:22 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond personal experience. This restriction counters claims of linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, that grammar is genetically driven system with universal features. Despite the absence of these allegedly universal features, the Pirahã communicate effectively with one another and coordinate simple tasks. Moreover, Piraha suggests that it is not always possible to translate from one language to another.
(Excerpt) Read more at eurekalert.org ...
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That was going to be my response too.
Noam had a theory about language being genetic. Not all theories are correct.
Interesting that there's a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond one's personal experience. They never would have been able to develop very advanced skills of abstraction that way, which would be pretty key to developing any kind of significant level of civilized society.
Chomsky may not have gotten human language right, but his work ended up being very valuable in computer science.
I've got no experience of dating a Carioca. But I sure like talkin' about 'em!
I don't see what exactly this proves. Old English was at least very restricted in color words: words signifying brightness and darkness, however, abound. (We students never knew quite how to translate fealu, "yellow, tawny, dun-col9ured, grey, dusky, dark.") I read years ago that number was always a late development in language. Not sure what fiction or creation myths have to do with language per se.
I assume they think Chomsky's theories about deep structure and surface structure are disproved, but without more information (lots more), I don't see how. Did Chomsky claim that all languages exploit every possibility of meaning? That would be laughable on the face of it; there's no reason they should, any more than every language must uese every phoneme the human vocal apparatus is capable of.
Also, regarding the apparent lack of fiction (I assume they mean traditional stories and myths rather than modern realistic fiction, which was a rather late development) and creation myths, I seem to recall reading numerous times over the years of primitive tribes who are more than capable of keeping things they consider important from outsiders.
I follow a different theory of language than Chomsky's, but I don't see how the information mentioned in the article does what the author claims. It sounds like they're using this find as a pretext to promote a philosophical theory of language derived from an epistemology which has nothing to do with the find itself.
I'm not buying that for a quarter!
I am supposed to believe that primitve hunter-gathers living in the midst of a major river system don't sit around the camp fire talking about their fishing skills & their sexploits?
And if they're so great at keeping secrets, maybe they just have chosen to conceal their creation myths. ;')
I guess I misunderstood. I thought "creation myths" referred to who was getting how much from whom, after the lights go out...and who was left "wearng horns". :)
If they lack numbers, they may find it difficult to, uh, talk about size...
I think that Chomsky was saying that the whole of language exploits all of the range of possibilities of Language.
I agree with you on Old English but a lot could be taken from context for example, Homer, Wine dark sea, no color there, but everyone knew what color wine was.
LOL! Not the color of any sea I've ever seen -- maybe ". . . the multitudinous seas incarnadine"?
Communication evolved hand-in-hand with social bonding, suggests a new study of non-human primates, which probes the origins of language.
The work tells us that communication is right there at the base of social behaviour and that having a larger vocal repertoire allows you to have a more complex social set up, says Karen McComb, at the University of Sussex, UK, who carried out the work.
McComb, with Stuart Semple at Roehampton University in London, UK, used published data on 42 different non-human primates species to examine the relationships between the number of vocal calls, group size and the length of time spent grooming. They also used phylogenetic analysis to take into account evolutionary relationships between species.
The data analysis showed strong relationships between vocal repertoire size and group size, as well as between repertoire size and the amount of time spent grooming, says McComb: This suggests that changes in communication can facilitate changes in social behaviour.
The analysis only revealed correlations, so it was impossible to determine causal relationships whether increases in vocal repertoire caused increases in group size and time spent grooming, or vice versa.
It is also important to remember that there are radical differences between non-human primate vocal repertoires and human languages, says McComb. So it does not follow that languages as complex as ours will necessarily follow from increases in group sizes and social interactions. There are other big hurdles that have to be overcome to get to human language, she says.
But some human languages may offer clues, such as Pirahã a language spoken by only 200 people in Amazonas, Brazil. Their very small inventory of phonemes could presumably have been made by much earlier branches of hominids, says Daniel Everett, a language expert at Manchester University, UK.
Journal reference: Royal Society Biology Letters (DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.036)
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