I was listening to this podcast titled Cognitive Fire – The Language: A Cultural Tool. What caught my attention was Daniel’s statement:
They live along the Amazon river, close to the water. They fish and eat. Since they have a lot of time, they spend it talking to each other.
They have a simple language syntax – 8 consonants and 3 vowels for men and 7 consonants and 3 vowels for women. The amazing thing is that they can talk, whistle or sing their language (three different equivalent forms). Rhythm and accent patterns convey meaning.
They don’t have recursion in their language. For example, they can’t say “Fred said that Ram thought that Tom meant”. But the possess an astounding knowledge of nature. They know every tree, animal, plant in their region and know about each one of them in detail.
Daniel Everett talks about his 30 year study of Pirahã, an indigenous language of the isolated Pirahã people of Amazonas.
A link to this podcast. and a link to the Wikipedia entry to Pirahã.
In this TED Talk, Steven Pinker talks about the way we use words, how we learn, and how we relate to others.
Human Intelligence consists of:
- A repertoire of concepts (objects, space, time, causation, intention) useful in social, knowledge intensive species
- A process of metaphorical abstraction: conceptual structure bleached of its content, applied to new abstract domains
About Semantics from The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
Semantics is about the relation of words to thoughts, but it is also the about the relation of words to other human concerns. Semantics is about the relation of words to reality – the way that speakers commit to a shared understanding of the truth, and the way their thoughts are anchored to things and situations in the world. It is about the relation of words to a community – how a new word, which arises in the act of creation by a single speaker, comes to evoke the same idea in the rest of the population so people can understand one another when they use it. It is about the relation of words to emotions: the way in which words just point to things but are saturated with feelings, which can endow the words with a sense of magic, taboo, and sin. And it is about the words and social relations – how people use language not just to transfer ideas from head to head but to negotiate the kind of relationship they wish to have with their conversational partner.