Friday, May 16, 2008

Language: NOT a sopisticated version of primal screams

Explaining language, Elizabeth Svoboda writes,

Lots of animals make noise; much of it even conveys information. But for sheer complexity, for developed syntax and grammar, and for the ability to articulate abstract concepts, you can’t beat human speech.

No you can't beat human speech, but if you are a human, you won't even be trying to beat it. Maybe Vulcan speech is actually better for some abstract concepts, but only Vulcans would care, right?

And that is the fundamental problem with materialist efforts to explain human language. The tomcat, for example, doesn't speak a human-like language because he has nothing to say that requires it. He can get by with yowls, snarls, and purrs.

Humans need a language that expresses ideas because we need to communicate ideas. The ideas come first. The complexities of our languages are structures chosen to express ideas and feelings the tomcat does not have.

The materialist needs to explain language as a sophisticated version of primal screams, but that project is bankrupt and pointless because that isn't really what human language is.

If your math teachers wants to explain to you why dividing by zero is not an acceptable operation in mathematics or your civics teacher wants to explain the advantages and disadvantages of proportional representation, they want to explain to you things that are irrelevant to primal screams.

On the same topic, Sver Eldoy, among others, commented recently,

[ ... ] Any human from any part of the planet are capable of learning any language; this fact lends credit to the assumption that languages are indeed something living in systems within the brain. The sheer complexity of human language is way too high to be a bi-product of the other mental faculties; if it were not we would have made talking computer programs already and "artificial intelligence" would be a "walk in the park".

But are languages really "living in the systems of the brain"? How about this: The idea to be communicated, along with the desire to communicate, is living in the systems of the brain.

Spoken language is the most obvious method that we adopt, because we have the equipment and we are encouraged to use it. But people deprived of hearing and/or speech have developed sign languages that function in the same way as vocal languages. And non-verbal people often express themselves in a sophisticated way in art or music.

So the desire to communicate exists independently of the usual equipment, and the ideas to be communicated are a necessary condition and justification of human language.