Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 12:35:16 -0700


Subject: Speaking the Same Language, Multiple SOC Model of Language

Tom Uharriet writes:

It is tough enough to communicate within our own language. It is even

tougher to communicate across languages.

Perhaps, in light of that, y'all might enjoy an excerpt from Russell

Hoban's _The Lion of Boaz-Jachin, Jachin-Boaz_ (a book I highly

recommend). I use it in my classes as an example of when meaning can

actually get through even when neither speaker recognizes it.

The van ... pulled up beside him. The large gentle face of the

driver looked out of the window, spoke as a question the name of a

channel port. Boaz-Jachin repeated the name, said "Yes." The driver

opened the door and he got in.

In his own language the driver said, "I don't suppose you speak

my language."

Boaz-Jachin smiled, lifted his shoulders, shook his head. "I

don't speak your language," he said in English.

"That's what I thought," said the driver, understanding the

gesture rather than the words. He nodded, sighed, and settled down to


"All the same," said the driver, "I feel like talking."

"I know what you mean," said Boaz-Jachin, understanding the voice

but not the words. Now he spoke not English but his own language, and his

voice was more subtly inflected. "I feel like talking too."

"You too," said the driver. "So we'll talk. It'll be just as good

as many of the conversations I've had with people who spoke the same

language. After all, when you come right down to it, how many people

speak the same language even when they speak the same language?"

"After all," said Boaz-Jachin, "it won't be the first time I've

spoken to someone who couldn't understand what I was saying. And when you

come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when

they speak the same language?"

They looked at each other, shrugged, raised their eyebrows.

"That's how it is," said the driver.

"That's how it is," said Boaz-Jachin.

Somehow, I can't read that without remembering something Whorf said: "My

own studies suggest, to me, that language, for all its kingly role, is in

some sense a superficial embroidery upon deeper processes of

consciousness, which are necessary before any communication, signalling,

or symbolism whatever can occur, and which also can, at a pinch, effect

communication (though not true AGREEMENT) without language's and without

symbolism's aid." (p239)

Linguistics is in dire need of an evolutionary model of language which

encompasses different states of consciousness (somatic, emotional,

idiomatic/formulaic and informational between strangers), all but the

last of which humans share with most animals. My own studies suggest to

me that an overlooked basis for these four types of language is to be

found in brainwave-rhythm levels (delta, theta, alpha, beta) of humans

and animals, which correspond as 'home frequencies' for the reptilian

brain, the limbic system, the lateralized right hemisphere and the

lateralized left hemisphere.

In this system, any animal (including human) with a lateralized

left hemisphere for beta waves (reversed for some left-handers and

Basques) is going to have dynamic structured systems (such as phonology

-- or its equivalent in Sign --, morphology, syntax) common to human

language systems. The others are still language, but shared and not

particular to human language.

I say 'idiomatic/formulaic' for the alpha/RH level because, as I

mentioned in a Linguist-List posting on speciesism, I claimed that the

definitions in our textbooks for such in human language (the meaning

cannot be gotten from analysis of the parts, but belongs to the utterance

as a whole: "He didn't have a leg to stand on, but nonetheless ran

circles around his opponents.") is almost exactly the same about what we

claim about the utterances of animals -- the meaning belongs to the whole

utterance, not its parts. Until now, because we put humans and animals on

different maps, we have not been able to see this crucial similarity.

This multiple states of consciousness model of language has the added

advantage of following tribal people's conception of human speech and how

it is different from the way the rest of nature speaks, as shown in a

"Cheyenne Tower of Babel" legend told me by Sakej Youngblood Henderson:

"Long ago, men & animals & spirits & plants all communicated in

the same way. Then something happened. After that, we had to communicate

in human speech. But we retained 'The Old Language' for dreams, and for

communicating with spirits & animals & plants."

This view of The Old Language is found as well half a continent

away from the Cheyennes in an entirely different language family. The

Wishram Indians believe that Wishram is their second language, their

first being the one shared by babies, coyotes, and shamans who speak with


I could go on, but not unbidden. Does this make sense to anyone? Am I

speaking the same language as anyone else?

-- Moonhawk