Re: Where Instinct Leaves off And Memetics Begins.

Scott DeLancey (
Fri, 1 Aug 1997 09:24:25 -0700 (PDT)

Date: Fri, 1 Aug 1997 09:24:25 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott DeLancey <>
Subject: Re: Where Instinct Leaves off And Memetics Begins.
In-Reply-To: <>

On Thu, 31 Jul 1997, Ken McE wrote:

> =09Specific words usually do not usually have inherent meanings, but the
> ability to find meaning in sounds or gestures is inherent in our kind.=
> The English word =93Mama=94 has close cousins in a fair amount of the wor=
> languages, and they all have about the same meaning. Laughing, crying,
> and screaming also tend to have the same meaning in all cultures. These
> would be examples of sounds with inherent meanings.

"Mama" and other nursery terms are not examples of sounds with "inherent"
meanings. "Mama", "papa", "dada", "nana", for straightforward phonetic
reasons, are the easiest first syllables for an infant to get control of
and be able to repeat at will. The standard story for how these come
to refer to parents, aunts, and other likely caregivers is that when
the infant makes such sounds in the presence of an adult, it is likely
to be rewarded with attention, and thus by simple reinforcement learns
to repeat the noise in response to seeing a face. Adults, who already
understand the idea of linguistic reference, then assume that the child
is using the sound as a label or form of address, which then becomes
a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Scott DeLancey=09 =20
Department of Linguistics =20
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)