In Praise of the Garrulous

Today we had a talk by the author and translator Allan Cameron on his new book ‘In Praise of the Garrulous‘.  In it, he sings the praise of ‘Garrulousness’ or talkativeness, and rejects the idea that human languages were initially homogeneous.  Indeed, he claimed that monolingualism is not our natural state, but we are designed to handle multiple languages, dialects and registers.

He also talked about the idea that there is a trade-off between linguistic diversity and the ability of a society to accumulate knowledge through technologies such as writing.  Although he did acknowledge that some systems (e.g. Chinese) protect linguistic diversity by transcending exact phonetic representation.

The talk was illustrated by a wide range of sources – literary and historical – including the role of the printing industry in Venice on the standardisation and spread of modern day Italian.  The book promises to be an  interesting approach to language evolution that takes into account many aspects that current scientific researchers leave out such as how power and war influence how languages change.

Some Links #5

The returns on homogeneity Razib Kahn writes about the potential costs of  the world having diversity in its languages, instead of just one. He also asks: “The extreme linguistic diversity of less developed regions of the world, or even 18th century France and Italy, is probably detrimental to economic growth and economies of scale, but do diminishing returns kick in at some point?” I’m not too sure where my thoughts lie on this, as I’ve never really thought about it before, which, for me at least, is always the sign of a good blog post. Of course, the economic woes or pros will be negated once the universal translator is made…

Cultural Induction is hard Sean Roberts offers a very thought-provoking post about cultural induction. A week or so ago he ran a little experiment on Facebook, with the explicit aim of looking at Welsh Mutations and agreements between Welsh-speaking individuals in regards to simple sentences. All this fits into a larger picture, with Sean arguing, quite persuasively, that “cultural induction may not be easier than learning about the natural world if everybody is doing something different.”

Cultural Evolution I tend to think I write fairly in-depth posts about cultural evolution, but it appears Bill Benzon over at New Savanna has dethroned me with a knock out tome of posts. These include one on language games, which, in the spirit of being completely honest, I haven’t yet had chance to completely read. I think a New Savanna day is due at some point next week.

Simon Jenkins writes something stupid, and in doing so invites a whole number of science bloggers to have their very own spoof Jenks day, in which (apparently) evil boffins seek revenge.

A new Papua tribe is discovered. Numbering around 3000 the tribe will surely be of interest to field linguists. They also apparently live in trees and run around completely naked (apart from banana leaves covering their private parts).

Culture as an evolutionary phenomenon. An interesting lecture by Rob Boyd over at the ICCI’s website.