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Because language is just like evolution only without sex

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Because language is just like evolution only without sex
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MaxPosts: 14Joined: Sun Apr 11, 2010 1:57 am

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

It might be problematic to use language as an analogy for evolution, unless the fact that is an analogy is strongly emphasized.

Language is a construct, and people can actively create new words (neologisms) and grammars. When talking to those unfamiliar with science, the common interpretation through the analogy may cloud the issue. It may be that because the analogy is very familiar, the analogy may overwhelm the facts of evolution and the interpretation that evolution has a "creator" or "active participant" may cause a false impression.
Wed Feb 02, 2011 7:30 pm
Ad InitiumBannedUser avatarPosts: 222Joined: Sun Jun 06, 2010 12:41 am

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Language adhere's to outside influence. The internet age has seen the development of a lot of new words.

It has a history on which it is based but it may have evolved so much over time, it does not sound like it at all.

Words die out. I recall my grandfather always using the (dutch) word "bikkecementen" ... He always said that when he wanted to go eat. I always assumed he made that word up. Not untill he died I found the word actually exists, as it was in the dictionary. But no one ever uses it nowadays.

When in a specific enviroment, you will see new words emerge or be used more then normal. A good example is the army (I am in one). I can hold a ten minute conversation with you in normal dutch and -provided you speak dutch- after ten minutes you would probably still have no idea what I actually said. Adaptation to a specific environment, but using the existing words. Given enough time, such a thing may become a new language on it's own.

So language does have all the characteristics of evolution, imho.

There is one downside. Spoken languages that have died out, will never return. So to a degree it will be impossible to trace the mother of all languages back.

Unlike in evolution, we can still find many example off dead animals in the ground.
Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:50 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

These all seem like very good arguments for the analogy, though.

You do not need fossils for evolution to have happened (though I think the study of dead languages is fascinating. ;))

Language is regional, as tend to be genetics.

The internet is like new language DNA in the equation.

Language can be created, but is only effective when shared and jointly understood and otherwise pointless.

Language does tend to 'evolve' much faster than genetics; but anyone would be hard pressed to say it did not evolve. Evolution doesn't mean getting better, after all. I'm liking the idea more and more. Culture as a sort of actor on the evolution of language. ;)
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:54 am
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Ad Initium wrote:
Unlike in evolution, we can still find many example off dead animals in the ground.


I don't really understand what you mean.
I think in that matter it is still just like evolution:
-We can find the "fossils" in old texts
-We know the laws of certain major shifts like in English the Great Vowel Shift, or Grimm's Law or in German the Second Shift and we can reconstruct from that point on how words were pronounced.
- Like biologists "make fossils up", thereby I mean saying "ok, from what we know, the organism must have looked like this although we have no actual fossil to prove it", linguists make words up, like there are many Gothic words (Gothic being the common ancestor of the Germanic languages) where we have no actual "prove" of, but from the Gothic words we know, and from what we know of how they evolved into Old English or Old German, we can trace the unknown Gothic word back from its offspring.
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Sat Feb 05, 2011 1:28 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

As stated, I'm very poor at learning languages; but these things fascinate me as well. I have a few closet theories too.

Giliell: how do curses and swears fit into the evolution and structure of language? They seem to me an anomaly.
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sat Feb 05, 2011 1:44 pm
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Andiferous wrote:As stated, I'm very poor at learning languages; but these things fascinate me as well. I have a few closet theories too.

Giliell: how do curses and swears fit into the evolution and structure of language? They seem to me an anomaly.


Hmm, I don't really get your queestion.
Do you mean as fixed expressions? Or why we use certain sets of words rather than others?
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:47 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Giliell wrote:
Andiferous wrote:As stated, I'm very poor at learning languages; but these things fascinate me as well. I have a few closet theories too.

Giliell: how do curses and swears fit into the evolution and structure of language? They seem to me an anomaly.


Hmm, I don't really get your queestion.
Do you mean as fixed expressions? Or why we use certain sets of words rather than others?


I suppose this is a complex thing and I hope I can do it justice.

Swear words tend to lose their literal meaning over time. Their etymology often makes no sense at all in context. But they convey degrees of emotion with a measure of force of insult - while not really insulting anything in particular. An emotional and reactionary type language rather than anything that really communicates in the traditional way. I mean seriously - when did it become a bad thing to wish people sex? *f* off should be a kind of blessing.

I suspect there's a big baggage trail of etymology but they've also developed associations in and of themselves without meaning anything in particular while being used, and often used as a bad habit. :)

I tend to see them apart from conventional dialogue and find them puzzling. :)
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sat Feb 05, 2011 3:45 pm
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Ah, now I get it.
I would say no.
Please note that I'm talking out of my ass on the actual issue of swearwords, it's not as if I'd done any research in this field or anything.
Words tend go totally astray from their ethymology all the time or acquire different meanings.
Just think about gay (which kind of belongs to the category of swearwords) or to have a totally neutral one: debug. Really you're not pulling bugs out of your computer.
I think the issue of swearwords is better explained by communication theory than by linguistics or semantics.
Language is a tricky thing. We communicate much more than the actual words, sometimes, with sarcasm, we communicate the exact opposite of what the words say.
Schulz von Thun (I wished that everybody had to read his works, they are great, comprehensive and do wonders for communication) has put forward the idea that every message has in fact 4 messages.
1. is the actual "literal" message
2. is the self-message, what we reveal about ourselves
3. is the relationship message: How do we see the relationship between ourselves and the recipient of the message
4. is the appeal message: What do we want the recipient to do

I'll explain on a simple example. Let's say you walk down the road and meet somebody. You say "Hi Carl, how're things?
1. There isn't a lot of literal message, is there?
2. But you reveal something about yourself. That you follow the conventional rules of politeness (we don't walk past people we know without greeting) and also that you belong to a group/generation that will use certain expressions (how're things vs how are you). Your accent will real some more things
3. You reveal a lot about your relationship: You know each other, you are on a first term basis, you think that Carl belongs to the same group that uses a certain slang (or would you great your gran with "how're things"?)
4. You really don't want Carl to tell you how things are. You want him to say "Fine, and you". If you really wanted to know what he did you'd ask more specifically "what did you do, haven't seen you in a while"

Now, if you apply this to swear words, they mainly "tamper" with 2 and 3
They are usually not words used in polite conversation because they're taboo-words. By using them you say
-I have left polite conversation, I don't care about social conventions anymore
-You are not worth the respect I would pay anybody else by using socially acceptable words.
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:00 pm
obsidianavengerPosts: 840Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:44 am Gender: Pinecone

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Andiferous wrote:
I suppose this is a complex thing and I hope I can do it justice.

Swear words tend to lose their literal meaning over time. Their etymology often makes no sense at all in context. But they convey degrees of emotion with a measure of force of insult - while not really insulting anything in particular. An emotional and reactionary type language rather than anything that really communicates in the traditional way. I mean seriously - when did it become a bad thing to wish people sex? *f* off should be a kind of blessing.

I suspect there's a big baggage trail of etymology but they've also developed associations in and of themselves without meaning anything in particular while being used, and often used as a bad habit. :)

I tend to see them apart from conventional dialogue and find them puzzling. :)


http://seedmagazine.com/content/article ... _violence/

steven pinker has a lot thats fascinating about the subject
Sat Feb 05, 2011 10:53 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Giliell wrote:Ah, now I get it.
I would say no.
Please note that I'm talking out of my ass on the actual issue of swearwords, it's not as if I'd done any research in this field or anything.
Words tend go totally astray from their ethymology all the time or acquire different meanings.
Just think about gay (which kind of belongs to the category of swearwords) or to have a totally neutral one: debug. Really you're not pulling bugs out of your computer.
I think the issue of swearwords is better explained by communication theory than by linguistics or semantics.
Language is a tricky thing. We communicate much more than the actual words, sometimes, with sarcasm, we communicate the exact opposite of what the words say.
Schulz von Thun (I wished that everybody had to read his works, they are great, comprehensive and do wonders for communication) has put forward the idea that every message has in fact 4 messages.
1. is the actual "literal" message
2. is the self-message, what we reveal about ourselves
3. is the relationship message: How do we see the relationship between ourselves and the recipient of the message
4. is the appeal message: What do we want the recipient to do

I'll explain on a simple example. Let's say you walk down the road and meet somebody. You say "Hi Carl, how're things?
1. There isn't a lot of literal message, is there?
2. But you reveal something about yourself. That you follow the conventional rules of politeness (we don't walk past people we know without greeting) and also that you belong to a group/generation that will use certain expressions (how're things vs how are you). Your accent will real some more things
3. You reveal a lot about your relationship: You know each other, you are on a first term basis, you think that Carl belongs to the same group that uses a certain slang (or would you great your gran with "how're things"?)
4. You really don't want Carl to tell you how things are. You want him to say "Fine, and you". If you really wanted to know what he did you'd ask more specifically "what did you do, haven't seen you in a while"

Now, if you apply this to swear words, they mainly "tamper" with 2 and 3
They are usually not words used in polite conversation because they're taboo-words. By using them you say
-I have left polite conversation, I don't care about social conventions anymore
-You are not worth the respect I would pay anybody else by using socially acceptable words.


I do find this fascinating and hope to read more in the future.

I suppose by extension we might say that mere "sounds" could be on the fringes of language when their meaning or gesture communicates something specific or might fit the theory. Like. Uh-uh or Hmm-mmm. Weird and not exactly Johnson's dictionary. :D

Thank you, I have not looked at it this way before.

As an aside, I wonder if swear words have a longer shelf-life than words with actual meanings. :D
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:27 am
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Steve Pinker wrote:As the historian Geoffrey Hughes has noted, "The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece."

Funny thing is: The French word for dandelion is pisenlit (yes, exactly what it "can't" ba called anymore) and my local dialect word for it, Bettseicher, means that very thing.
It is often funny how English-speakers forget about the rest of the world. In this special case, the dandelion, I would rather suspect a culinary connection. Danedlion is a wonderful wild herb. But it is was not widely eaten in Germany, where the name is, similar to English, "lion's tooth". But always remained on the tables of France and of my region (the best you can get in spring: fresh dandelion salad with bacon and eggs and some fried potatoes). Therefore the quality that gave it its "bedpisser" names remained known and in the minds of people. People who didn't eat it didn't see the connection and only saw the "bad name". The connection with the lion via its shape was much more obvious.
Now dandelion has its culinary renaissance, but, when before it was poor people's food, it's now on the tables of upper class restaurants. although its diuretic quality is praised, the bedpisser words that were kind of a non-issue for the poor people of my region, don't fit that society.
Now this would be interesting to discuss with a native French speaker: Do they still see the connection between the name and the bedpissing?


@Andiferous
It gets even better:
The other side of this model is the recipient of the message who also received the message on those four levels but who might get 4 totally different meanings than the ones you sent. That's why this model comes in so handy: In case of a "fight" it often helps to stop, take a step back and have a meta-conversation about the language to understand why person X feel offended or things like that. That's especially true on the level of conflicts between partners, a lot of the "man can't understand woman - woman can't understand man" situations become a lot clearer.

Oh, there's a special term to refer to utterances like the oh-ohhh, but I forgot it
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:37 am
PulsarUser avatarPosts: 872Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 5:52 pmLocation: Belgium

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Giliell wrote:
Steve Pinker wrote:As the historian Geoffrey Hughes has noted, "The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece."

Funny thing is: The French word for dandelion is pisenlit (yes, exactly what it "can't" ba called anymore) and my local dialect word for it, Bettseicher, means that very thing.

In Dutch it's still called a "pissebed". I'm surprised that the English haven't banned the word woodpecker yet ;)
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. - Robert McCloskey

Science doesn’t know everything … religion doesn’t know ANYTHING.
Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:02 pm
AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Giliell wrote:
Steve Pinker wrote:As the historian Geoffrey Hughes has noted, "The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece."t


:lol:

I'm not completely sure what that quote means, but that's not really important anyway...
That is most definitely signature-worthy. :D
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:10 pm
UnwardilUser avatarPosts: 814Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:32 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Pulsar wrote:In Dutch it's still called a "pissebed". I'm surprised that the English haven't banned the word woodpecker yet ;)


Probably the reason woodpecker hasn't been banned is because it's redundant. Like calling it a stiffyerection or a cockpenis.
Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:41 pm
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Pulsar wrote:In Dutch it's still called a "pissebed". I'm surprised that the English haven't banned the word woodpecker yet ;)

Now, to test my hypothesis: Is it commonly eaten? I would think so because lots of the comercially grown dandelion here comes from Belgium, so, please say yes :lol:
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:56 am
PulsarUser avatarPosts: 872Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 5:52 pmLocation: Belgium

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Giliell wrote:Now, to test my hypothesis: Is it commonly eaten? I would think so because lots of the comercially grown dandelion here comes from Belgium, so, please say yes :lol:

Oh god, I just had the best WTF moment, because I thought you were talking about something completely different :lol: You see, "pissebed" has two meanings in Dutch:

The official Dutch name of the plant is "paardenbloem" (literally "horse flower"). In some parts of the Netherlands people indeed call it "pissebed", but in Flanders we commonly call it "pisbloem" (yep, "piss flower"). No, we don't eat them, but they are still used as herbal medicine to treat kidney problems (and other ills).

But "pissebed" is also the official Dutch word for woodlouse :D
And in case you want to know: yes, they were eaten in de Middle Ages to stimulate urination, just like the plant. I'm glad that medicine has advanced since then ;)
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. - Robert McCloskey

Science doesn’t know everything … religion doesn’t know ANYTHING.
Tue Feb 08, 2011 11:05 am
GiliellUser avatarPosts: 1218Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:29 am Gender: Female

Post Re: Because language is just like evolution only without sex

Ain't language funny?
But you're really missing something, it's absolutely tasty. I'm looking forward to eating it by the pound come spring :D
Go to heaven, we don't want you in hell with us!
Most people don't object to discrimination and oppression as such, they only object to being at the receiving end
Tue Feb 08, 2011 2:59 pm
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