Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 12:35:16 -0700
From: Dan Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]S1.CSUHAYWARD.EDU
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
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?