RSA Animate - Language as a Window into Human Nature: Steven Pinker
Includes Alan Fiske’s theory of the three major human relationship types: dominance, commonality, reciprocity
You can see how the letter G was created from the C (in order to distinguish the voiceless /k/-sound from the voiced /g/). The Z was lost and reintroduced; the Y evolved into the V, and then the original letterform was later reintroduced. The earliest roots of the modern Latin alphabet can possibly be traced through Phoenician to the Proto-Sinaitic glyphs found in Sinai and Egypt, dating all the way back to 1900 BC.
…Atkinson made a model that assumed spoken language had originated in one place and spread throughout the globe, and also that phoneme number was correlated with present population size. He then removed the effect of population size to pinpoint an area where language could have originated. Here’s Figure 2A from his paper, with the most likely area of language origin being the lightest color, and successively darker regions showing the inverse relationship between phonemic diversity and distance. As you see, Ground Zero for language is southwest Africa.
This Is Informative, You Should Watch It of the Day: From the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts comes the whiteboarding of experimental psychologist Steven Pinker’s illuminating talk, “Language as a Window into Human Nature,” which asks and answers the question “why do we feel more comfortable being indirect when there is no uncertainty about what we really mean?”
(Make sure to stick around for the bonus relevancy @ 8:05: “Why are political revolutions triggered when a crowd gathers in a public square?”)
Understanding Language via BIRDSONG
Hubert and Mabel Frings. In the 1950s they recorded French Jackdaw crows. The Frings played those same French crow calls to American crows that never migrated, and they didn’t udnerstand them. But when they played those same French calls for American Jackdaws that did migrate, they understood! Conclusion: “This means that the reactions to the calls are at least partly learned by the crows and are not strictly inborn.”
I just watched “Nova ScienceNOW: Bird Brains”
introduces a leading expert on birdsong who believes the key to understanding human speech lies in understanding how birds learn their songs.
states that both birds and humans have sophisticated circuitry in brain regions that control learned vocal behavior.
reports that birds learn to sing in a way that is similar to how humans learn to speak. Early bird song is unstructured, like a baby’s babbling. This stage is followed by mimicking adult sounds.
introduces scientists who study speech processing in zebra finches that stutter. They compare magnetic resonance images of speech-activation patterns of stuttering and non-stuttering zebra finches. These patterns are similar to ones seen between human stutterers and non-stutterers.
reports on genetic studies of a family who suffered from a rare speech disorder—a single gene mutation in the FOXP2 gene was the cause. It was named the language gene.
reveals that scientists isolated the FOXP2 gene in birds and discovered that it influences the way a bird learns to sing. The level of the FOXP2 gene product increases or decreases depending upon whether song learning is occurring. When researchers reduced the level of FOXP2 product, the birds had a reduced capacity to learn song.
points out that FOXP2 is the only gene known to be essential for normal speech development in humans and songbirds, and that this gene is present in most organisms.