Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 20:46:17 -0700


Subject: Re: Language and Intelligence


Be careful about overgeneralizing about American Indian/Native

American languages. They are as different among themselves as English and

Chinese. One of the saddest facts about research on these languages is that

we have almost no studies on how children learn them (and most are going

fast and won't be around in another 30 years). Cheyenne, for example,

presents a daunting computational demand, which is in my experience

paralleled only in one South American language. But the last I heard, no

children were any longer learning Cheyenne, so we will never know how they

learned to master this amazing system. Whorf used to think that Hopi was

structured in a way that would conduce to quantum-math thinking, but

unfortunately there aren't many Hopi mathematicians.

However, Barney Old Coyote once told me a wonderful story of how

he was once in a 3rd-grade classroom of mixed Crow and Anglo children, and

the teacher was doing a painful review of 1st-grade arithmetic with the

usual apples and oranges, and the Crow kids were struggling terribly, while

the Anglo kids were bored to death. He asked the teacher if he could inter-

vene for a few minutes, and asked the class how they would figure the odds

on a stick-ball game, given certain parameters. The Crow children started

jumping up and down with the right answers, and the Anglos were totally

flabbergasted. This of course involves some really high-level computation

which would ordinarily be considered beyond the cognitive abilities of

children of that age. I doubt very much that the structure of Crow had anything

to do with it, but certainly their cultural experience did.

When I was a grad student, and excited about the intellectual

challenges of linguistics, I tried to convert many of my archeological (I

used to be an archeologist, among other things) and historian friends to

linguistics by getting them to take a course. Most found it much too

difficult to deal with, and went back to their potsherds and manuscripts.

I've yet to read anything in archeology or history which begins to compare

with the cognitive demands of an article on Government and Binding theory


--Rudy Troike (rtroike[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]