Introductions, delayed and interrupted

Chuck Arnold and 'Jockey,' 1930s

Daniel and I both wanted to post introductions, but need a bit of time to pull together something both comprehensive and yet not tedious. In the meantime, we’re both making links available to what we think is our best recent stuff on the old site. Daniel posted In lieu of an introduction yesterday, and I’ve got my own to add.

What Daniel didn’t say, because he’s too generous, is that he’s had to really just choose the high points from our recent months as he’s racked up some seriously interesting stuff at a pace I can’t match. In addition, after a hiatus, he’s brought back the weekly Wednesday Round Up, now here at the new site, which I know regular readers pined for in its absence. So his ‘best’ were harder to identify than mine, owing in large part to the much bigger pool.

That said, here are some recent posts:

Life without language
Probably my favourite of my last few months, I stumbled across an interview with Susan Schaller, author of Man without Words. The piece is an analysis of Schaller’s account of teaching language to a deaf man who had never learned any form of symbolic communication, and a contemplation of the role of language in shaping cognition.

We agree it’s WEIRD, but is it WEIRD enough?
Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan published a brilliant piece, ‘The weirdest people in the world?’ in Behavioral and Brain Sciences reviewing some of the problems with using pools of undergraduate psychology students as stand ins for humans of all sorts. The post is an extended, ‘Oh, YEAH, and…’ extrapolation of their point that students are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).

The dog-human connection in evolution
One of my students, Paul Keil, alerted me to a piece in Current Anthropology by Pat Shipman on the importance of the human-animal connection in evolution. I argue that dogs are a special case, not only because they were the first animal humans ‘domesticated’ (if we can call it that), but also because their own social tendencies likely shaped our understandings of subsequent domesticates. Besides, I got to post obscenely cute pictures of my dogs.

Language extinction ain’t no big thing?
Another science blogger wrote a piece arguing that language extinction was not worth getting worried about because it was probably better that poor countries adopted global languages. My post probably generated a fair bit of heat, but perhaps not as much light, as my most important point was that the issue was a human rights one connected to self determination. Besides, it’s too easy to say someone else’s identity doesn’t stack up in a cost-benefit analysis.

The new linguistic relativism: Guy Deutscher in the NYTimes
Prof. Guy Deutscher has a forthcoming book discussing new evidence that, once again, is getting some people to take linguistic determinism seriously (some of us never stopped). The only down side to the trend is that proponents of the new linguistic relativism like Deutscher still like to ceremonially flog the brilliant anthropologist Benjamin Whorf for reasons that escape me. I’ve been writing a lot on language lately…

Your Brain on Nature: Outdoors and Out of Reach 2
Finally, I riffed off the same NYTimes piece that Daniel discussed about ‘neuroscientists on the river’ trying to point out that the only reason nature wasn’t full of information for the rafters was because they had absolutely no idea what they were looking at as it floated by. Having a cooler full of porkchops and Tecates doesn’t hurt either…

There will be plenty more in the months to come, in fact, I’m probably only hours away from finishing up the piece on Uner Tan Syndrome and other quadrupeds, so stay tuned — lots of fun to come!

On the ship “Mongolia”: Chuck Arnold and “Jockey” (dog), ca. 1930’s / photographer Sam Hood.
From the State Library of New South Wales, downloaded from Flickr.

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3 Responses to Introductions, delayed and interrupted

  1. Nice links, thanks.

    Re your language debate with Khan. (I read only your piece, not his stuff). One thing I didn’t see mentioned (again, by you at least) is network effects. There is a large economic literature about how such effects can generate immense positive externalities, and language is an obvious case of where network effects are large. Global languages (or even A global language) would clearly generate efficiencies, making everyone better off. (A nice example is airline pilots: by international law all of them have to speak English – for the obvious reason that universal communication is essential. Another example is pidgin languages like Fanagalo. The latter is used as a lingua france in Southern Africa’s mines. Even my dad, a geologist who speaks Afrikaans and English, knows Fanagalo).

    Now, this does NOT mean we should want a monolanguage. Bilingualism – even multilingualism – seems like an obvious solution. We’d get the benefits of network effects AND the maintenance of ‘endangered’ languages. South Africa (where I’m from) is a good example of this. The language of business and commerce is English – and nearly everyone speaks it. But a host of languages are still spoken and, as far as I know, are in most cases not in decline.

  2. *franca – not france.

    Also: I’m Afrikaans (you know, the folks responsible for apartheid)* and, honestly, I don’t have a particularly strong desire for its continued existence. It’s not that I *want* it to disappear, it’s just that I don’t think its extinction would be an enormous tragedy. (Lost literature would probably my main concern, but there is always translation). In fact, I probably speak English better than I speak Afrikaans (especially academically). And when/if I have children, I’ll make sure their first language is English.

    *To my enormous continued embarrassment and regret. Maybe this influences my views on this question.

  3. Pingback: Great links for the weekend!