Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 13:43:36 -0800

From: Dan Moonhawk Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]S1.CSUHAYWARD.EDU

Subject: Re: Language and Intelligence

A wonderful previous posting re: Sapir and fascinating comments here.

1) The reason for some of my (*over)generalizing has to do with being

emboldened by the Fetzer Dialogues -- the 'timeless' manifested and

manifesting breakdown of the Hopi, the same 'timeless' worldview espoused

in modern physics by David Bohm as explicate and implicate, turned out to

be basically as valid for Algonquian speakers, by their own words, as it

seems to be for Hopi, and Lakota speakers also agreed. This makes such a

generalization quite plausible at this point in history, even though not

all the families have yet been heard from. It's not like I called it a

universal or something.

2) "Whorf used to think that Hopi was structured in a way that would

conduce to quantum-math thinking..." Then Algonquian languages and Lakota

and others are similarly conducive. Again, we cannot think in English

without NP categories and nouns, but there are no nouns in the subatomic

realm -- only relationships and rhythms (think of a sound made of

distinctive features instead of 'letters'). In the languages spanning

different language families in North America that I'm most familiar with,

they are of the same 'quantum-structure' -- relationship thinking rather

than thing thinking -- as Whorf described for Hopi. Quantum physicists

must use mathematics in order to think in this relationship-thinking vs

thing-thinking way. American Indians already think that way, except

qualitatively instead of quantitatively.

3) Alas about the Cheyennes. Of course, there may be some who are being

'held back' that we wouldn't know about, as is happening in many tribes.

On Wed, 6 Dec 1995, Rudy Troike wrote:


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]