Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id UAA17828 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Tue, 30 Apr 2002 20:41:29 +0100 Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 12:36:29 -0700 From: "Douglas P. Wilson" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: teleology and language To: email@example.com Cc: Robert Neville <firstname.lastname@example.org> Message-id: <email@example.com> X-MIMEOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.3018.1300 X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.3018.1300 Content-type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1 Content-transfer-encoding: 7BIT X-Priority: 3 X-MSMail-priority: Normal References: <C3E77374-5C61-11D6-9DF0-003065A0F24C@harvard.edu> Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Precedence: bulk Reply-To: email@example.com
Wade Smith, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, quoted my comment on the evolution of
>> some people remain convinced that language does evolve, but I don't
>> Brains evolve. Language doesn't.
> Some people replace 'language' with 'culture' and
> see no incorrectness, but, indeed, a fuller understanding
> of the phenomenon.
There is something right about that, although I think some of the memetic
content of language is not "culturally accessible" since it is unavailable
even to native speakers of the language, in more or less the same way our
DNA includes a lot of sequences that aren't used for anything but are passed
along through the generations for reasons nobody has yet divined.
Maybe there are no reasons, maybe they are just useless noise, but people
like the late Lewis Thomas have seen ways they may be a vital part of some
global genetic process. I don't really know enough about genetics to form
an intelligent opinion on that, but when it comes to language I think I know
enough to state with certainty that natural languages are full of something
we don't use, some kind of content we can't get a handle on, but do pass
along to our children.
But whether we could just replace the word "language" with "culture" is a
difficult question. Whenever I try to think about this I always seem to
fall into one of those semantic traps the analytic philosophers used to set
for the unwary.
Natural languages are, I think we would all agree, something vitally
important but terribly hard to understand. So I concentrate instead on
various kinds of artifical languages, e.g. the lower predicate calculus,
Fortran, C, Python, the Colon Classification, deontic logic, and so on.
I am quite fluent in a few of these language-like things, and writing in
them seems quite a lot like writing ordinary text, as I am doing here and
now, so I do think of them as languages, and in my mind they have started to
replace natural languages as defining paradigms for the word language.
That's bad enough, and any analytic philosopher who is worth his salt could
surely write a devasting critique of this abuse of lang..., I mean for this
abuse of our normal medium of communication, but this philosophical sin in
only the beginning. Before long I find myself measuring natural languages
against these new paradigms, and finding they don't measure up very well.
Before long I find myself saying that English, Russian, and Walpiri are not
actually languages at all, they are, as Wade Smith said, culture -- memetic
content expressed in some underlying mathematical ideal language.
At which point even the dullest philosophy undergraduate will surely say
that all of the above points notwithstanding, English, Russian, and Walpiri
must be languages because they are precisely what the word "language"
Oh, Semantics, Semantics, god of communication, why do you torture me thus?
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