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    Perception Through / Language / Thru Perception
    The Rosetta Disk

    Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection.

    The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group ... We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.

    ~ Steven Pinker, Rules of Language ~

    In linguistics, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (SWH) (also known as the "linguistic relativity hypothesis") postulates a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. Although known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, it was an underlying axiom of linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir and his colleague and student Benjamin Whorf.

    ~ + + ~

    Toki Pona

    Toki Pona was created by Sonja Elen Kisa. As a language enthusiast, world traveller, intercultural communicator, explorer of spirituality and consciousness, queer woman, and survivor of depression and anxiety, Sonja was naturally inclined to unify her unique life experiences and perspective into a creative project she could share. The idea of a simple pidgin-like language based on universal human experience slowly evolved in her mind.

    Toki Pona is a minimal language that focuses on the good things in life.
    It has been designed to express the most, using the least.
    The entire language has only 14 basic sounds and 118 words.
    The grammar, although different from English, is very regular and easy to learn.

    ( Learn, Official Site )

    ~ + ~

    And for the more experimentally-minded, see Sonja's...

    Oou: The Insane Language

    Design Goals

    • Make you go out of your mind
    • Produce multiple meanings and weird homonymic insights
    • Alienating, intoxicated effect
    • Go against expected conventions of language yet be fully function as a language
    • Explore the connections between reality and surreality, meaning and nonsense
    • Virtually impossible to understand one another: acts of communication become trippy idea-art
    • Sentence meaning flows with your state of consciousness

    ~ + ~

    Lojban & Loglan

    Lojban symbol

    Lojban is a constructed language. It was originally called Loglan by project founder Dr. James Cooke Brown, who started the language development in 1955. Loglan/Lojban has been built over four decades by dozens of workers and hundreds of supporters, led since 1987 by The Logical Language Group.

    The following are the main features of Lojban:

    • Lojban is designed to be used by people in communication with each other, and possibly in the future with computers.
    • Lojban is designed to be culturally neutral.
    • Lojban grammar is based on the principles of logic.
    • Lojban has an unambiguous grammar.
    • Lojban has phonetic spelling, and unambiguous resolution of sounds into words.
    • Lojban is simple compared to natural languages; it is easy to learn.
    • Lojban's 1300 root words can be easily combined to form a vocabulary of millions of words.
    • Lojban is regular; the rules of the language are without exception.
    • Lojban attempts to remove restrictions on creative and clear thought and communication.
    • Lojban has a variety of uses, ranging from the creative to the scientific, from the theoretical to the practical.

    the structure words of Lojban

    ( Learn, Q&A, The proposed fourth tense of Lojban )

    ~ + ~

    What sets humankind apart from other animals is language. Certainly many species communicate, and some do it in a very sophisticated way...think of wolves and dolphins. The important difference with human language is that it can be written down, allowing us to communicate across time as well as space.

    There is a linguistic theory—known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis—that the structure of a human language sets limits on the thinking of those who speak it; hence a language could even place constraints on the development of the cultures that use it. If this hypothesis is correct, then a language that could lift those constraints, by reducing them to a minimum, ought thereby to release its speakers' minds from their ancient linguistic bonds, and that should have a profound effect, both on individual thinking and on the development of human cultures.

    ~ Alex Leith, What Is Loglan? ~

    Loglan inventor Dr. James Cooke Brown with fellow Loglanists Robert A. McIvor and Alex Leith

    Loglan is a constructed language originally designed for linguistic research, particularly for investigating the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The language was developed beginning in 1955 by Dr. James Cooke Brown with the goal of making a language so different from natural languages that people learning it would think in a different way if the hypothesis were true. Loglan is the first among, and the main inspiration for, the languages known as logical languages, which also includes Lojban and Ceqli.

    Dr. Brown founded The Loglan Institute to develop the language and other applications of it. He always considered the language an incomplete research project, and although he released many papers about its design, he continued to claim legal restrictions on its use. Because of this, a group of his followers later formed The Logical Language Group to create the language Lojban along the same principles, but with the intention to make it freely available and encourage its use as a real language.

    ( Learn, Official Site )

    ~ + + ~

    [T]he background linguistic system (in other words,grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual's mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, for his synthesis of his mental stock in trade. Formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar, and differs, from slightly to greatly, between different grammars. We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds - and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way-an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit. and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees....

    From this fact proceeds what I have called the 'linguistic relativity principle', which means, in informal terms, that users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars toward different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers, but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world.

    ~ Steven Pinker, Rules of Language ~

    ~ + ~

    Daniel Everett and the Pirahã

    Tooí and Dan Everett; Taken by Martin Schoeller

    Discovered by phonetic expert Professor Dan Everett of Manchester University in 1977, the Pirahã tribe of Brazil have perhaps the most unusual language among the nearly 6000 found on earth.

    Free from concepts of time, color, or specific quantity, the mind of the Pirahã people appears to have been frozen in time—representing man in a simpler state...

    The language of the Pirahãs is extreme: it is limited to 8 consonants for men, seven for women, and only three vowels. It does not contain concepts for counting or simple arithmetic—Everett notes that the Pirahã convey varying amounts through approximation.

    The crucial thing is that the Pirahã have not borrowed any numbers—and they want to learn to count. They asked me to give them classes in Brazilian numbers, so for eight months I spent an hour every night trying to teach them how to count. And it never got anywhere, except for a few of the children. Some of the children learned to do reasonably well, but as soon as anybody started to perform well, they were sent away from the classes. It was just a fun time to eat popcorn and watch me write things on the board. So I don't think that the fact that they lack numbers is attributable to the linguistic determinism associated with Benjamin Lee Whorf, i.e. that language determines our thought—I don't really think that goes very far. It also doesn't explain their lack of color words, the simplest kinship system that's ever been documented, the lack of recursion, and the lack of quantifiers, and all of these other properties. Gordon has no explanation for the lack of these things, and he will just say, "I have no explanation, that's all a coincidence".

    ~ DE, Recursion And Human Thought: Why The Pirahã Don't Have Numbers

    Perhaps most intriguing, Everett found that the Pirahãs don’t use recursive phrases. In other words, they don’t insert phrases within each other to combine different ideas to form a single sentence. Everett thoroughly tested about 20 Pirahãs, and found that none of them used a recursive clause. According to Everett, the Pirahã only talk and think in terms of direct experience. The kind of referencing that occurs in recursive phrases just isn’t a part of their thinking.

    “[For the Pirahã] sentences…cannot be uttered acceptably in the absence of a particular pair of animals or instructions about a specific animal to a specific hunter. In other words, when such sentences are used, they are describing specific experiences, not generalizing across experiences. It is of course more difficult to say that something does not exist than to show that it does exist, but… in the context of my nearly three decades of regular research on Pirahã, it leads me to the conclusion that there is no strong evidence for the existence of quantifiers in Pirahã,” writes Everett in his 2005 paper for Current Anthropology, ‘Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã.’

    If there were a finite language, because of the lack of recursion, that wouldn't mean that it wasn't spoken by normal humans, nor would it mean that it wasn't a very rich source of communication. But if you lived in an environment in which culture restricted the topics that you talked about, and not only just your general environmental limitations on the topics you talked about, but if there were a value in the culture that said, don't talk about topics that go beyond, say, immediate experience—in other words, don't talk about anything that you haven't seen or that hasn't been told to you by an eyewitness—this would severely limit what you could talk about. If that's the case, then that language might be finite, but it wouldn't be a poor language; it could be a very rich language. The fact that it's finite doesn't mean it's not a very rich language. And if that's the case, then you would look for evidence that this language lacked recursion.

    So in the case of Pirahã, the language I've worked with the longest of the 24 languages I've worked with in the Amazon, for about 30 years, Pirahã doesn't have expressions like "John's brother's house". You can say "John's house", you can say "John's brother", but if you want to say "John's brother's house", you have to say "John has a brother. This brother has a house". They have to say it in separate sentences.

    ~ DE, Recursion And Human Thought: Why The Pirahã Don't Have Numbers

    Bernardo, a Pirahã leader, asks lumberjacks to leave the area. André Toral, 1998

    According to Everett, the deceptively simple language of the Pirahãs is not an indicator of a mental failing— curiously, the tribe sees all other languages to be quite ridiculous. While their language may seem simple from our perspective, Everett says that they just use different means to convey concepts and emotions. He states that the Pirahã have a complex verbal morphology and system of accents that give the language its expressive color.

    “The Pirahã people communicate almost as much by singing, whistling, and humming as they do using consonants and vowels,” he writes.

    Another surprising fact is the absence of myth, ritual, symbolism or any other anthropological characteristic that relates the Pirahãs with other cultures throughout history. For the Pirahã, there does not exist any creator God, or moment of creation; nothing was ever created because it always existed. Their concept and experience of time reduces it to the absolute present. In fact, there are no members of the community interested in tracking the records of grandparents, much less older ancestors. To the Pirahã, once something is outside of direct experience, it ceases to exist. They don’t even seem to have any storytelling.

    ~ Leonardo Vintiñi, Epoch Times Article ~

    ( Recursion Discussion, Further Reading, Pirahã Photos, Multimedia, Daniel Everett )

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    Synapses (8)

         Wed, Nov 5, 2008  Permanent link
    Wow, nice article. It's something I find so awesome, the whole concept of linguistics as language finally beginning to understand itself. I've been attempting to understand a bit on this myself, and it's really hard to grasp, but I'm beginning to get there. This information definitely helped :)
    First Dark     Wed, Nov 5, 2008  Permanent link
    Yeah! It's all so fascinating but definitely takes a good deal of dedication to really keep up...
    Wildcat     Thu, Nov 6, 2008  Permanent link
    Grand post, thank you First Dark, I think you have created here a coherent proposition for all those that realize the shortcomings of our daily language.

    As Steven Pinker so succinctly puts it: "We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way-an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit. and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees...."

    The above is one of the most clear modes of defining the problem that I have read.
    As we know the net has created a new kind of reality to emerge, a reality that defines a new form of communication, that of hyperconnectivity. In fact I would go as far as saying that hyperconnectivity redefines for many of us, biopersons, a new kind of language, the language of the extended bioperson (the embryonic polytopian). this new kind of language refines our modes of grasping and increases the evolution of our minds into a fresh (and unwritten) agreement and sense. I see today the evolution of a new perceptual capability deriving from this new form of language, namely a new kind of sense that can be called cyberintuition.
    This new cyberintuition derives largely from the upgraded (and in a sense even optimized) kind of language we use on the net.
    There is in fact not only a novel vocabulary that is being created as we speak but a new kind of meaning/s that is assigned in manners and fashion that for the uninitiated will seem utterly alien, esoteric and fully unrecognizable.
    I think therefore that as a complement to our set of perceptive capabilities we need realize this new cyberintuition as a form of mental emotional hyperconnected sense of meaning application.
    Cyberintuition is a new arrival on the mental/emotional evolutionary scene, it is in my understanding, a fresh artifact of the mind using its extended reality perception via the grid to grasp realities that are at present beyond the capacity of the 'simple' bioperson.
    innovativeedge     Mon, Nov 10, 2008  Permanent link
    Great article. As said above you really cover quite thoroughly a lot of great information about the effect of linguistics on the limitation or expansion of human thought. This is something that I've thought about before, but never quite this deeply. Nor did I realize that there was already so much research already out there. Good stuff!