Language, Sounds and Intelligent Design

thorbiorn

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In this interview with an Iranian-American duo, they discuss music: At one point they talk about how people are affected by a different environment. Talking about people who moved to India from Iran, Loga Ramin Torkian suggests the appearance of the face also is modified by the language that is spoken. I think it is true, but there is also a limit. It is the old story of nature and nurture. After that, he speaks about the influence of culture and identity. Commenting on that, I would say that the culture also impacts the development of dialect, and the choice of words, but to what extent does that then influence the face of a person?
IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH NIYAZ | AFTAB COMMITTEE
Aftab Committee interviews Azam Ali and Loga Ramin Torkian of NIYAZ. In this interview, Azam and Ramin talk about their music, the Iranian-American community, post-colonialism, spirituality, Turkish poetry and so much more!
 

Chu

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FOTCM Member
And again, it took me longer than expected, since I don't prioritize this project. But I made a few more, on more details about how complex language is. It may be a bit more “nerdy”, but hopefully it explains some things about language that you may never have thought about. You’re a genius for speaking any language!
😉

Language Origins and Complexity – Part 6: A huge set of skills combined


If you are a language nerd, you will like this one! How many parts of our bodies do we need to produce speech? Which is the only floating bone in our body, and how is it useful for speech? How do we use statistics all day long when producing language, and not even realizing it? What is Theory of Mind? What abilities do we need to put to use every time we speak, ranging from motor skills, to cognitive abilities and social aptitudes? All this and much more, to explain how everything in language is complex, and how its basic dictionary definition doesn’t even begin to explain it.


TRANSCRIPT:

"Hello! And welcome to Language with Chu.

Today we’re going to talk about something very simple, actually. Yet, I hope to show you that it’s a lot more complicated than it seems. If you’ve watched my previous videos about Sounds and Meaning, and about Language Complexity you already have an idea of where I’m trying to get to.

But I’ll start with the simplest question of them all: What is Language? And by working on that definition I hope that it’s not too nerdy and that you get a lot of ideas about how language works, and why the state of Linguistics, or the state of the “science of language” is kind of stagnant nowadays.

One of the problems is that, like in any science, most people try to find a very simple definition for something, so that the hypotheses that they are testing will make sense, will be able to be tested even, and the experiments replicated, etc. Well, Linguistics is a little bit in between, because it’s within the Humanities, but some currents of Linguistics have been trying for decades to make it more scientific.
So it’s a little bit between both sides, and you can forgive some linguists for being too “scientific” and missing the forest for the trees, or some others for being too “wishy-washy” in their definitions. But the problem is that, with language, I think, you can’t just focus on one simple definition. In fact, I hope that in the examples that come next, you’ll see that everything in language is complex, and everything in language requires more than one dictionary definition.


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Ok, so, let’s start with “What is Language?”. If I were to ask you how many abilities you need to speak, and to use language in general… And here, just a note: When I’m talking about “Language”, I’m talking about the Language capacity, not each individual language, ok? So, what do we need to know from a physical point of view, from a mental or cognitive point of view, and from a social point of view? What is the set of skills that you need in order to speak? And I would suggest that you pause the video here, and think about it. Make you own little bullet points, and then resume watching, and see if you got them all. I probably missed many, but I think you’re going to be surprised. [Pause].

Okay, I’m assuming you paused the video and did that little exercise if you felt like it, but let’s start with the physical things that you need to have and to know: First of all, you have to have “parts” that work. You need to have lungs to breathe, you need to have a heart… If you’re not alive you’re not going to be talking! You need a functioning brain… You need everything that makes you a human being to talk.

That’s number one, and they need to work FOR language. For example, our breath is used in a specific way to materialize language. Otherwise you could just be breathing without making any noises, any vocalizations, and it wouldn’t be called “speech”.

Second, you need a neuromuscular complex, I would say: we have roughly 700 muscles in our bodies, and about 78 of them are muscles that we use for speech. Not just for speech, but mainly for it. So, that’s a lot! And you need every tiny muscle and nerve and everything to help you articulate the sounds you make (produce sound), they need to help you control how you articulate things (otherwise nobody could understand you), and they have to make it as easy as possible for you to produce sounds.

So all of that is an entire mechanism working in the background while you use speech. You have a lot of skills you don’t even realize you have, because they are subconscious [automatic], basically.

Then you need the larynx, and the larynx is basically the “voice box” that we have (some people call it the voice box), but it’s just 2 inches long, it’s not very big. And without it, we couldn’t speak either. But the interesting thing is that it’s involved in many functions apart from language. And you’ll see this more, and more, and more. There is hardly any unique thing that we could say, “this is ONLY for language”. For example, we use the larynx, all this part of our necks to swallow, to breathe, to cough… and there are minute mechanisms going on in the larynx to allow you to talk, or to swallow, not to choke, etc. So you need the larynx.

You also need something called the hyoid bone. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. But it’s this floating little bone, kind of inside here… You cannot really palpate it, but it’s studied nowadays for problems with sleep apnea. It’s used in forensics for determining of somebody was strangled or not. And as a funny piece of trivia, I’ll let you that if anybody asks you, “which is the only bone in the body that floats?”, you can say it’s the hyoid bone. It’s not quite correct, because it’s floating on air, but it’s a bit like the patella, the knee cap. But this one is particularly… Here in the image you can see how it really looks like it’s floating. It’s connected by a bunch of ligaments and little muscles and stuff, but it doesn’t articulate with any other bone. So that’s why it is said to be floating.

Well, this little bone is interesting because it is in the right position to help the tongue move, to help the larynx open and close so that you can speak, or swallow or eat….

And animals have it… animals have a larynx too (many animals), but they don’t have them in the right position to allow for speech. It’s commonly believed that one of the things that made humans speak [in the course of evolution] was the descent of the larynx. In some animals it’s very, very high, so it doesn’t allow for the cavities that we have. Resonance cavities and such. And there is not much difference between the sounds that they can produce for vocalization, and the piping for eating or breathing. In our case, humans, our larynx is quite low and that creates enough room, levers and pulleys that allow us to do both: breathe and eat, and speak. But, I can tell you right now that that’s not really true, because many animals also have a lowered larynx, and it’s not because of that that they speak. So, it can’t be the only factor. None of these are the only factors, but they all contribute to speech.

You also need a bucco-nasal cavity. So, anything that resonates, from your nose, to your cheeks, to everything in your mouth, your teeth, etc. In my videos about phonemes and sounds I described how each sound in language is placed in the mouth, and they each have their names, etc. If you are interested, check that video too.

And then you have a brain. Obviously, you need to have a functioning brain. And again, there is so little that is known about it! You will hear that Broca’s area, or Wernicke’s area is for language. And although there is some specialization and language is mostly seated on the left hemisphere, there are many cases of injuries where the brain immediately kind of takes over, or compensates for the part that is injured and uses something else.

So, I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “Here is my language center”, or whatever. Not to mention that, as we’ll see in a minute, we need so many skills to speak and to use language, that it seems that the whole of the brain is lighting up when we speak. Also, the studies that we CAN do nowadays, with brain scans and MRIs… They are quite limited, if you think about it, because all they are showing is brain activity as in electricity, and maybe some neurochemicals acting, and chemical activity. But it’s not the whole banana, because where is it all stored? How does it work? The amount of words you know, the amount of knowledge you have about the world…

I had an MRI done once, and my brain looked quite tiny, you know? And I speak three languages really well, and three others not so well, and I have no idea of how it could all fit into my small brain. Maybe you have a bigger brain! 😉 Anyway, I don’t think that explains language and how it works. I think it has more to do with the connection between brain and mind, so everything that is non tangible but that is usually equated with the brain.

Okay, and finally (I’ll go through these quickly), you need the vagus nerve. I’ve spoken about the vagus nerve in previous videos too. What is interesting is that, as I just said, the brain is not everything, and the vagus nerve, not only does it have the right branch that controls, or helps you regulate a lot of your facial movements, but it also has a very important pro-social role. And also, it reaches all the way down to your gut. Recently, or not so recently, scientists found out that 90% of the branches of the vagus nerve send signals up to the brain. And do you know what also is in the gut? Neurons. There are a lot of neurons. So again, nobody knows how we think, how we feel. Maybe most of the time we’re thinking with our guts? I don’t know. Anyway, you need that to speak as well.

And you also need gestures. For many linguists, gestures are at the beginning of the emergence of language. I don’t quite agree, and if you’ve watched the previous videos in this series, you know why. But gestures (gesticulating) is important for language, and the more you know who to use them, the more you can use them, the better for language.

OK? So that’s it for what you need to do physically, and if you notice, all of this is almost subconscious, or you don’t really have a lot of control over it. You’re not thinking, “I have 78 muscles in my face that are helping me produce language”, right? If you think about it, you might say so, but most of the time we use language spontaneously, without giving any of these things a thought. OK? So, I would say that this is part of the definition of language if you include what is required for language.

Next we have anything that is cognitive. So, what do we need in our brains or our minds to use language? Well, you need memory. And memory of several kinds. You need short-term memory. Because, say you forget everything I say 3 seconds after I’ve said it. You wouldn’t be able to watch anything, to listen to anybody, you wouldn’t be able to keep your train of thought, etc. You need long-term memory to remember all kinds of things about the environment, about the social situations, about a text, for example… Everything in your long-term memory helps you understand language, more so than we often think it does.

Then you need something kind of nifty, which is statistics. And we are all kind of experts at statistics, if you think about it, because when you learn a language, there are things that are allowed, and not allowed. When you listen to a foreign language, there are sounds that just don’t sound English to you, right? Why? Because you are doing all kinds of computations in your head that tell you, okay, these sounds are normal/allowed in English.

Not only that, but these sounds can also be combined in a specific order in different ways, and when you shuffle them around, they just don’t sound English anymore, right? Well, all those things are a kind of statistic work, because you are always working on probabilities. When you listen to somebody, your brain is calculating, “Does that make sense? Is this more likely than not?” And if it is more likely, then I can even not hear the sounds, and make up the word: If I tell you, “I like ‘omputers”, you didn’t hear the “c”, and maybe you didn’t even notice you weren’t hearing the “c”. “I like ‘omputers”. And you kind of made it up, because you know that, statistically, “omputer” is usually preceded by a /k/ sound.

OK, and that shows that there is a HUGE amount of complexity in what we say. We use language all the time, and it’s so easy, or it sounds so easy to us… It’s only when we meet somebody who is learning our language, our mother tongue as a foreign language that we realize how hard it is. And we don’t even realize all the knowledge we have.

For example, if you are a native speaker of English, could you conjugate the copula in the third person plural, simple past? I’d be interested in hearing how many of you did it, if you can post a comment. What I just said may have sounded like Chinese, but it’s just “they were”, as in “they were happy”. The verb “to be” is called the copula in linguistic jargon.

Or if I tell you the verb…. Give me the verb “to look” in the second person singular, in the present perfect. Can you do it? “He has looked”, or “She has looked”, or “It has looked”. So, see? I know that because I learned English as a second language, but you don’t need to know that. You have all these rules… phonological rules, morphological rules (so which word chunks can go together with which ones)… you know all the verb tenses, you know how to put sentences together… All those things, you have no idea how you do it, but you know it. And when some “annoying” foreigner starts asking you, “but why did you use this tense instead of that other one, blahblah”, you go like, “I don’t know, I just use it!”. So, there is a lot of complexity in what is going on in your mind.

You also need abstract thought, obviously, because not everything is concrete. You need abstract thought even for having a conception of time when you are speaking. You need abstract thought for everything, basically when you speak. It would be very hard to only focus on concrete thoughts to be able to have the type of communication we have nowadays.

And then you need a whole apparatus of encoding and transmitting: so, I’m encoding information and sending it to you; you’re decoding it and receiving all the information. Nobody really knows how that works. There is Information Theory based on some of these concepts, but from there to know how it works in the brain… Scientists have tried, and keep trying to find out how it all works, but like I said, there is so much that we have inside our brains, that it is very difficult to know why, and how language really happens.

OK, and then finally, from a social point of view, you need something that is quite human, although some animals have it to a certain extent too. And that is “theory of mind“. And “theory of mind” is just a term for describing when you can ascribe a mental state to somebody, and predict their reactions, and adjust your own behavior. So, say I tell you, “Hi! How are you?”, and you say, “I’m okay…” [with a sad face]. I already know from your expression that you are not really doing ok. So I can’t take you literally, and I may as you, “What’s wrong?”. Or when I’m about to make a request, if I’m a little nervous I may be trying to figure out first if you are in a good mood, if you’re not, etc. So, all those things are “theory of mind”, and in language it’s super important because we read a lot of non-verbal cues, sometimes more so than words.

Then, there is something that goes with it: we also have to take other people as agents. If you imaging that people are talking for the sake of talking (some people do, but…! 🙂 But if you imagine that nobody has anything to say, then you wouldn’t try to find meaning in a sentence. And because we see that each person is an agent of communication, we try to find meaning, we try to express meaning, we try to be clear, etc.

And finally, we have to agree tacitly, and also subconsciously many times, to a HUGE amount of conventions in language. You have like a whole rule book inside your head that tells you “This comes after this”, or if a person says “hello”, I respond, etc. You know that if I tell you, again, “How are you?”, and you tell me “The sky is blue”, I’m going to think that there is something wrong with you, right? It’s completely out of context. So, there are all kinds of social norms. In some languages it’s even more important when there are different personal pronouns, for example, depending on the social rank of the person, or the age, like in Japanese.

And all those things, you are doing within a millisecond. You are processing A LOT of information. All of this, basically, that you see on the screen, is working at the same time, every time you say anything. Practically anything.
Screenshot 2022-03-01 141941.png
And what is interesting is that, like I said on previous videos, these parts weren’t really designed FOR language, or don’t seem to have been designed for language. Because if you take any of those physical, and mental, and social traits or abilities, you could say that they are part of a much bigger cognitive complex, or you could say that they are part of a much bigger network of functions that we fulfil as human beings. And each of the little parts, physical or not, allow you to do a multitude of things, not just speaking. So that’s a bit puzzling when you are talking about evolution, because, well, which one came first, if we need them all at once?

Then, from a more cognitive point of view, language is integral to our lives, I think. There are cases of children who were born and left in the jungle, or from sadistic parents who left them locked up in an attic, for example, until they were teenagers and they were found. And you can see in those children that they actually don’t have, not just language, but they’re also missing a lot of other cognitive and social abilities that your average Joe has. So, I think that language has a lot to do with our general development. It’s not just a system of communication, as it is normally described.

And then finally, an interesting bit about language is that it is completely blind do demographics, to social status, to anything. You can speak differently, but every human being (except for exceptional circumstances like I said before)… every single human being has at least one language. In fact, monolinguals (just one language) are a minority in the world. Most people can learn 2, 3 or 5 language with no problem, from birth.

So that’s it for the abilities required in language. I hope it’s not too “nerdy”, as I said, but just think about how smart you are if you ever are in doubt, for being able to do all those things at once.

And here you can see why there is a debate between the camp that says that we are born with it all, because it’s so complex that we could never have learned that in such a short amount of time when we were children; and the others that say that we learn it all. That obviously we were born with a certain ability for speaking, but that learning has a lot to do with it. And well, the two camps sort of fight with each other. I think both of them are right, and both of them are wrong in that they limit their definitions.

We will hopefully talk about that in more detail later. But yes, we’re born with a certain capacity for language, for sure. And our environment is very important. But just saying that you were born with it doesn’t mean that it’s all in your brain or your genes. In fact, there hasn’t been a lot of progress made in that respect. And just because you say it’s social and it’s learned, it doesn’t mean that it’s only the caregivers that teach language to a child that will have the only say in how it’s done, or that will provide the biggest amount of input. I think it’s a lot more complex than that.

This is just the first slide, so I talked a lot, I think! But anyway, I hope you liked it. We’ll stop here for this “episode”, and we’ll move onto language functions next. So, what does language do? And the types of knowledge that you need to have. Hopefully then to move into these kinds of myths that exist around linguistics and around the idea of language, and which ones we can rescue, and which ones should really be tweaked a bit so that they match reality, finally.

OK, so let me know in the comments if you thought of other abilities that are required for language, if I missed any important ones (I was just trying to summarize), and if YOU think that language is innate, or if we learn it. See you next time."
 

Chu

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Next one!

Language Origins and Complexity – Part 7: What does Language Do?​


And now we explore all the functions that language fulfills. Our lives would be so empty without it! Language is constantly helping us communicate, understand the world around us, and even ourselves. It can be used for creation, or for destruction. A few words can become powerful actions. And last but not least, language offers a window towards what is invisible in the miracle of life. Are you still thinking that we owe language to gradual and random mutations? Think again!


TRANSCRIPT:

Hello, and welcome to language with Chu. Let's continue on with what language is. I recommend that you watch at least part six of this series, if not all of it, so that you have a pretty good idea of what we're talking about.

But now, on this part, we're going to focus on what the functions of language are. What does language do for us? Well, there are many, many functions. You can you can do as we did in the previous one, if you want. Pause the video and try to come up with your own ideas of what language does, and then tell me if you got more or less than I did.

First of all, we have a communicative function. For linguists, sometimes communication is the most important function of language. For others, not so much. Rather, it's more like an expression of our thoughts. Both camps, again, are right in a way, but I think they also miss a lot of details. But if we only focus on communication, we could say, well, language serves to express ideas, concepts, feelings, thoughts... anything you want to can express via language. And if you didn't have language, well, good luck expressing some things! If I wanted to tell you that yesterday I tripped and fell, and my knee was aching, I could probably try to imitate the action, sort of, and you might get it. But imagine if I was telling you without language that I'm reading this interesting book about gravity, and blah, blah, blah. Good luck with that, right?

So language fulfills a big, big function in terms of expressing our thoughts, our feelings, or any concept, really. And how do we do that? Well, we do that with symbols. Again, there are different schools of thought. Sometimes linguists prefer to talk about a "language of thought", which works with different grammar rules, if you wish. And different symbols too. And then we have language as it is externalized/ expressed via your own mother tongue or other languages.

But now, for the sake of simplicity, let's just focus on the symbols that we use for language. And those can be of all kinds. The sounds, like I described in the Sounds and Meaning videos. It can be morphemes: "possible"/"impossible". The "im" in "impossible" means "not", "not possible". You know those things without even thinking about them.

Then comes each word. You have to know the symbol for each concept, each word. So you know "yesterday", "bottle", "tree", "cigarette", or anything.

Then you know groups of words. You know that "behind the sofa" is three words, and it's not the same as "in front of the sofa", while for a foreigner, for example, that might be all a blur and they don't know where one word starts, and the other one finishes, right? For each of the languages we master, we know how to decode and encode groups of words.

Then we have groups of clauses, that is, many sentences within sentences, and full sentences. So, for example, if I tell you, "The man who worked at the flower shop loved the lady who worked at the bakery", or whatever, those two chunks of sentences... the "who worked at the bakery"... are closest, and you know how to group them. And you know how to understand immediately a sentence. Or "The teacher standing next to the pupil smiled". Who smiled, the teacher or the pupil? You immediately know that is the teacher, right? Even though "smiled" is right next to "pupil". So all those things are automatic for you.

And then we have this idea that for each symbol, you have a form (whether it's the letters in the way it's spelled or the sounds in the way it's pronounced), and you have a meaning (what it really means, kind of like a dictionary definition). But as we'll see in a minute, meaning is not so simple. It's a lot more complex than that. And the sign, the symbols, may not be as arbitrary and conventional as it's often thought. Usually it's believed that somebody (our ancestors, the people who created our own language) decided, "Okay this is a paper. You know this is called paper end of story". Everybody starts calling it "paper".

Well, if you watched the Sounds and Meaning videos, you know that it... I think it can't be that simple, because there are too many similarities across languages, even in languages that are never supposed to be related. That speaks of something else, that speaks of some kind of glue that binds certain groups of languages with others, and that it's not as easy as to say, "Well, this is the mother of this language". I'm going to make another series on the chronology of some of the languages and how supposedly they evolved. Say, romance languages from Latin. And you'll see that it's not so clear-cut. I don't have the answer, but I think it's a lot more, I would say "spiritual", in a sense. It's not so tangible, it's not so easy to determine as to say it's just conventional, somebody decided and everybody agreed, okay?

So next: the interactive or social aspects and functions of language. Many things in language are actions. They're called "acts of speech". So, if I tell you, "Pass me the salt!", it really is an order. If I were a minister and I were to tell you, "I pronounce you husband and wife", think of the implications of that, just that little sentence. If I ask you, "Do you know the time?" Obviously, I'm not asking you if you know the time, but I'm asking you for something. And if you're a smart ass, you could say, "Yes I do, and not answer my question, but you know what I mean. So all those are acts of speech.

Then you have something that I think is quite important in language. I've mentioned it in the past as well, and it's that language, as much as it allows us to express our conscious feelings and thoughts, it also allows for more sneaky feelings and thoughts, and it can be turned into a weapon for creation or for destruction. Simple words like "pandemic", for example. The definition has changed a lot in the last two years depending on who you ask, what "science you follow" and... I don't want to get political or anything, to not be banned from Youtube, but I hope you get my meaning.

Other words like such could be "white male", "dissident", "war on terror"... It all depends on who's telling them, and who's using them for creating policies that could either improve the situation in a country or destroy it, improve the situation in society or destroy it, create more division or not. So I think that's an important function of language that usually gets exploited. But not always. Sometimes it's used for good reasons too, kind of like when you give yourself good affirmations and you accomplish something after the fact.

Then we have that language fulfills a role within culturally understood activities, with mutually understood goals. What I mean by that is that, for example, say you meet with a bunch of friends and it's agreed that you're gossiping, that you're not really telling the truth about somebody, or really have solid proof about what you're saying. Everybody understands that, and that stays within the context of that conversation. Or say you go to a shop to buy a pair of boots. If the shop assistant suddenly brings you a bundle of bananas, you know that there's something wrong, right? It doesn't belong to that kind of situation. So language has to keep... when you're using language, you keep in mind all those kinds of goals and activities and rules.

A then, finally, you get a lot of information from language with cues from your environment. So, an example would be, again, that one about the bananas instead of shoes. Or when you get cues about how the other person is feeling, and you change the way you're talking, because you're getting those cues from his or her language and from the environment as a whole. So language uses... it filters a lot of information that you constantly are bombarded with.

And finally, this is a little bit less, let's say, "official or mainstream", but I think language is a big, big tool to make sense of our world, from when we're children till much later too. The words we have are an integral part of who we are, of our growth, our internal world. It would be nice to have, say for example, telepathy. I wouldn't have to guess your thoughts, and you wouldn't have to guess mine. But would we learn as much? When you're trying to express a strong emotion, and you don't have the words for it, and you search and search, and dig, and finally go, like, "Yesss! Eureka! I know how I feel. I can tell you".

All those things have to do with finding words, with using language, and I think they're a part of our ability to grow as human beings. They're also part of our... without language, we wouldn't be able to listen, and learn to listen to others, which is very, very important to grow something in us, to grow more empathy, to be able to develop deep relationships, etc.

Then there's also a lot of language that has to do with our growth, or our internal world, in terms of that inner dialogue that we have, sometimes. You know, for example, you're trying to achieve something and you go, like. "Oh no, I'm stupid. I'll never achieve this". Or, "Like my mom used to say, I'm gonna be useless at this", or whatever you're thinking that you carry from childhood. And all those things use language. You're talking to yourself most of the day, actually, more than you talk to others.

So they're all part of our internal world and, like I said before, it's also (in terms of our how we cope with reality) it can also be said to be an engine for creation or destruction depending on what we tell ourselves, what we conquer in ourselves, etc.

And this one a debated one: language is reflective of our perception, it has to do with thought and the question of "how much does our culture influence our language, and vice versa?" How much does our language influence our thoughts. That's another topic for another series of videos, because there's a lot of interesting stuff to tell you about it that you probably don't know.

But basically, all of this has to do with thought, whether it's a language of thought (like some linguists believe) or if thought is something separate. We use thought a lot when we use language, and language a lot when we use thought. The only difference is that when you speak it or write, it adds some kind of linearity to it. You could think in many terms, think of many things at once, but you can't vocalize many things at once.

And then, again, debatable, is the idea that language forges habits of mind. It forces us to think about some things and not others. For example, if in English I tell you, "I spent the night at my neighbor's house", you don't know if my neighbor is a man or a woman, if I'm trying to tell you something without saying something, or whatever. While in Spanish, I would be forced to tell you immediately whether my neighbor is a girl-friend or a male friend, see? Because Spanish is a gendered language, and "neighbor" is either masculine or feminine. So I would HAVE to add that information and all those little things. That's just a small example, but all those little things may forge something in our minds that makes us view the world in slightly different ways. Sometimes not so slightly different, actually.

But that's a topic for another video, and I would like to hear from you on the comments if you thought of any other functions that language has, and if you agree with any of this or disagree. And which one you think may be the most important one if there's any. But I hope that now with this video and the previous one, and all the previous ones, you're seeing how complex it is, how a simple definition of "language is just a means of communication" doesn't really begin to describe what language is.

And I hope you see that it's also very difficult to determine what we're born with, and what we learn as we develop, as we grow. So I'll leave it here and see you on the next part. Leave me your comments and please subscribe to my channel, and click on like and all the things you do on Youtube and share farm wide if you find this interesting. Bye!
 

Chu

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You are realy fast :D

I'm not, LOL! I recorded this together with the previous one (and the next one). :whistle: Otherwise I stake months to do the next one, LOL! At this rate, I have to try and be more regular, or the channel won't grow at all. I think of lots of things to say, and then, I chicken out a bit, or start thinking that I need to know a lot more before sharing, etc. But then I remember that one can find all sorts of videos on Youtube, and that I don't need to have a full thesis approved by Standford University before sharing. :lol:

Thank you for watching, @Claus. I look forward to comments or questions or feedback if you are interested and have any.
 

Claus

Jedi
This time, I must confess, that I only read the transkript :P
I either don't know if i can formulate propper questions, maybe with deepL, as my mother tongue is not english :D
My feedbeck is, that I only can look up to you and your work, I am far away from geting this informations on my own, and also far away from making a video in english :P
So thank you so mouch for your effort, I hope that I can offer as good informations on other topics and in other form, sometime.
Only now there are so mouch briliant people out there, way more than I am, so I don't know how or even what I can offer to oters... Maybe in some sort of short comments or so... :/
 

Chu

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Only now there are so mouch briliant people out there, way more than I am, so I don't know how or even what I can offer to oters... Maybe in some sort of short comments or so... :/

Yes! I understand perfectly well how you feel. But at least in my experience, EVEN if you feel that others can always do better, or that you have nothing to contribute, or that you are saying the same thing others have said before and better, there is always someone out there who benefits. Sometimes it is because of the way you said it, or because they needed to hear that message at the particular time when you posted. So, as long as you try to share sincerly and help others (in whichever language you want!), you are doing well. :flowers:
 

Cleopatre VII

Jedi Master
But at least in my experience, EVEN if you feel that others can always do better, or that you have nothing to contribute, or that you are saying the same thing others have said before and better, there is always someone out there who benefits. Sometimes it is because of the way you said it, or because they needed to hear that message at the particular time when you posted.
The way something is said is sometimes very important. What's more, referring to the leitmotif of this thread, it is important in the context of the language in which we express ourselves.

On the one hand, it seems to us that if we can form sentences in several languages, we can translate them as one into one. This is true in everyday situations or in technical language. Nevertheless, when we enter into philosophical, metalogical or theological analyzes, it happens that every single word and the functioning of language in general are important.

When we translate from language to language, we generally use synonyms. However, synonyms are not words that have exactly the same meaning, their meanings are relatively close, but they are not the same meaning and this ought to be emphasized.

There are languages in which these similar meanings are blurred, and this is often the case in Germanic or Romance languages. These languages emphasize the accuracy of expression, which on the other hand leads to enormous complexities of description, which is visible, for example, in German philosophy.

On the other hand, there is a very interesting linguistic group, I mean a lot of Finno-Ugric languages, which includes, among others, Hungarian, which I know quite well, as well as Finnish and Estonian, which I hardly know, but so much that I can see significant differences between this group and a Slavic, Germanic or Romance group.

A characteristic feature of Finno-Ugric languages is the presence of a large number of cases of declension. The kinship between the different members of this language family is based primarily on the similar structure of the language, while there are few similarities in the vocabulary. Expressing something in these languages is extremely interesting. It is very emotional, not strict, but it requires the right feeling, like Hegel’s philosophy (what is beautiful about Hegel is that he expressed his beautiful world in strict German). Hence these languages are very difficult. Finnish and Hungarian share some kind of meta-similarity, while English and German share a logical linguistic analysis.

Some time ago, however, I started to learn Hebrew while studying theology. Hebrew, of course, is extremely useful in analyzing Old Testament scriptures.

Old Hebrew is relatively primitive. Its complexity does not match Hungarian, Polish, Russian or even Greek, which were the most complex languages I have learned.

However, very interesting in this language is its mystical message and its mystical analysis. A very unusual feature of this language for me is the fact that the vowels do not matter much. The numerical meaning assigned to individual letters of the alphabet is also very interesting. This language stands out in the sense that it is based on certain "magical" uses. For example zajin is symbolized by 7, which is the so-called perfect number.

At the same time, there are some interesting facts about time in Hebrew. What is timeless is mainly expressed in the present. It is similar in Greek, as I will mention one word - high priestess (Aρχιέρεια). This word does not change. The high priestess is one who is changeless in her innermost nature.

One can speak of Kabbalah in the context of Jewish culture, but on the other hand, in this case the entire structure of the language is largely based on the metaphysics associated with tradition. This is utterly amazing, but the Hebrew texts are difficult to analyze by any other than the historical-critical method (The historical-critical method is used regularly by Laura in her latest book. This is also my favourite method).

Moreover, even in the books of the New Testament there are plenty of elements from Talmudic and Mtidrash literature. Proof of this is the work of Strack and Biillerbeck: "Kommentar zum Neuen Testament ans Talmud uind Midnasoh".

Therefore, we should not be surprised if some authors claim that there are also many mystical or kabbalistic elements in the books of the New Testament, for example look at a literal translation of the "Gospel of Matthew" by Johan Kemper.

It really is. And the fact that in the books of the New Testament there are a great multitude of these mystical elements, there is one evidence that in Christ's day there was an extensive secret tradition among the Jews called "Qabbalali qedószah," a mystical tradition with the goal and object of God and the Messiah.

It could not be unknown to the apostles. Analysis of the letter of St. Paul to Jews and the Apocalypse of St. John shows that these two apostles knew this tradition best.

It seems to me that learning Hebrew and analyzing texts in this language is extremely helpful in the context of the mystical analysis of biblical texts. And in this language, the way something is spoken is absolutely unique. Hebrew is probably the most interesting language I have learned, next to Hungarian and Greek. I would say the same about Polish and Russian, but these are Slavic languages which, due to being native Polish, are close to me, so my assessment may not be objective.

Anyway, the fact that I was learning Hebrew was also helpful for me in reading Laura's latest book. I had a lot of references. The understanding was better and cleaner. I believe that this is valuable knowledge. On the one hand, it is only a descriptive language. On the other hand, the knowledge of many languages of descriptions brings us closer to understanding the nature of reality.
 

Chu

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Language Origins and Complexity – Part 8: Einstein has nothing on us!​

What types of knowledge do you need in order to use language? You know A LOT more than you think! From abstract rules, to how to remove ambiguity in funny sentences, an ocean of knowledge is available to you every second of your day. Learn more about the ease with which you do amazing computations when you speak, and be proud of yourself!


Still "nerdy", but I tried to give funny examples to illustrate the point:


TRANSCRIPT

Hello, and welcome to Language with Chu. If you haven't watched the last two parts, please do so, so that you understand a bit better where we're coming from, and getting to.

This part will be about the knowledge that is implicit, all the stuff that we need to know in order to use language. And it's nothing short of a miracle, actually. So all these things, remember, are things that you're not even aware of most of the time, okay? They're implicit.

First you need to know sounds. And by sounds I don't mean just /a/, /b/ etc, but also which ones correspond to your language, and how to combine them. You have all kinds of little rules in your head. For example, if I tell you "opened" and "looked", both are the past tense of those verbs, but "opened" sounds like a "d", the "d" at the end, while "looked" is actually a "t" sound. But you never thought about it, maybe, because obviously it's written with "ed" at the end. Those have to do with sound combinations, what your language allows you to do. So you have a ton of rules just for that, for sounds.

Then you have a ton of rules of what I call "encyclopedic meaning", because usually definitions in a dictionary are very simple, but they don't convey all the subtleties and all the meanings of a word. Say the word "open": you can open a door, open the closet, open a drawer, open a book, open your mind, open up with somebody, etcetera. There are a hundred of expressions with the word "open" that may not be in a dictionary, but you know perfectly well what they mean, and you use them perfectly well, and in a variety in multiple ranges of scenarios too. Okay.

Then you have knowledge about the word structure: if I tell you the word "teacher", you know that it comes from the verb "to teach" and that the "er" means "a person who does something", right? A teacher is a person who teaches. But what about "bestseller"? Is it a person who "best sells"? No. And what about a "villager"? Is it a person who "villages"? No. So, even though you saw certain patterns like in "teacher", "carpenter", "hairdresser", etc., you already have knowledge of exceptions, basically. Of structures that are similar, but which don't mean the same.

Then you have, based on word structure as well... you also have to expand into word order: in English, sentences go Subject + Verb + Object. So, if I tell you... a famous one for linguists is "Dog bites man" on a newspaper headline, for example. It wouldn't necessarily make the news but what would make the news is "Man bites dog" because it's more unusual. And you know which one is the subject and which one the object just from English's word order. In languages like Hungarian, for example, you don't have that at all, so you'd have to come up with other... you have to use other bits and bobs of the language to know who the subject is and who the object is.

And then you also have idioms: if I tell you, "He kicked the bucket", either I'm talking about a janitor, say, who got really angry and kicked his bucket, or in most cases, you know exactly what I mean, right? It means "to die".

Then there is the fact that you have to have these patterns —all these patterns in your head, thousands of them— and the abstract rules that go with them. Say the subject comes before the object, etc. and with just a few elements you form an infinite amount of sentences. It's very likely that the sentence that I just uttered was never "invented" before. Some sentences are repeated and are very common, but for the most part, we can produce an infinite amount of sentences, with an infinite length, even, and still be understood. And nobody really knows how we do that, but it's one of the nifty things about language, that with a few elements you can keep going on and on and on, just like I am now.

Okay, then you have the sentence structure. Like I said on the previous video, if I tell you "the woman standing next to you smiled", did you smile, or did the woman smile? You know immediately that it's the woman, even though "you" is right next to "smiled". You just know how the thing works, and you understand the concepts in your head, and you can follow a conversation without any trouble.

Other examples are found often in newspapers, and they make for funny titles. I was looking for some earlier, and there is: "Students cook and serve grandparents". There are two meanings there, and you got immediately what the right one was, but the other one sounds kind of... not too cool, right? Here's another one: "Drunk gets nine years in violin case". Obviously, it's not the violin case, it's a legal case, right? Or "Iraqi head seeks arms" obviously is the arms as weapons, right? [And the "head" as leader".] So, all those little things make up for funny ambiguities and silly titles, but you know exactly how to use them. Immediately, you know how to recognize them.

And then finally there is "contextualization cues" which is anything you need to know about, say, for example, pronouns. In many languages, you have different pronouns according to the age of the person. Or even if I just tell you simply "you saw them" or "he saw them". You know who "he" is, and you know who "they" are ("them"). Otherwise you couldn't understand that sentence, and I know you know. That's why I'm using these pronouns.

So, basically, if you combine all of this with the knowledge about your environment that you need, which is a lot... You need to read cues all the time (nonverbal communication). You need to know others, you need to know how others think more or less, you need to know who you're talking to. You need to know everything about the world that you can know, from gravity to how to buy potatoes at a supermarket. Anything, everything that you know, it weighs more than an entire encyclopedia in your head. And yet, you just use it as if it was nothing. You take language for granted most of the time.

So I'll finish with this: if you ever think that you're too dumb, too old or whatever to learn any new language (or any new skill, really), just remember how much you know about language, and with how much ease you use it without realizing it. If you've managed to learn your mother tongue and anything else in life, you can tackle your next project, no problem! You're going to be able to, because any time we acquire a complex skill such as language, we're picking from all kinds of areas (physical, mental, and social) to perform all kinds of functions. And we have a ton of abilities that we don't even remember we have or acknowledge that we have or notice that we have.

So you're just a walking little Einstein (we all are) when it comes to language. And yeah, to me it's like magical. It's amazing. The richness of language is unbelievable, and we often take it for granted just like we do for most of our other capacities, or even the parts of our.... how our body works as a whole.

Thank you for watching, for leaving comments and questions and likes and for subscribing, and see you soon for more on language!
 

siftingmaterials

Padawan Learner
Incredible content in this topic. Goodness gracious, Chu, thanks so much for all this work. It all really gets my mind going! I've gone through this whole topic and everyone's pretty much in-line with my own speculations. I want to add to this discussion, so much has been said already. I will try to contribute by sharing a problem I run up against.

Well okay, first I'll share with you all what I want to say: That meaning in language is more than a simple faculty of the brain. For if (I fear) language, meaning and the brain are inextricable, then it may be likely that language and meaning are subordinate to the brain's design; a kind of cognitive jibberish with only symbolic value, just as our perception of colour is subordinate to the organization of rods and cones in the eye, which we know is an utter mischaracterization of the energy we call "light"; just as our sense of touch betrays the complexity of physics...

Sometimes I wonder if there's a veil of confusion we'll eventually feel our way out of. Or if this is all simply the soup of our cognition from which there is no escape, save for death or somehow transcendence. So you can see, this brings up a lot for me.

Something that I was just reminded of is that language is not exactly human specific, though it is most highly developed with us. There's the dogs who are trained to use sound boards to convey emotions and desires, the primates who are taught sign language, our pets who seem to understand words in some capacity, and so on.

[...]

Not sure where my mind was going by bringing these things to the forefront, but since there is an intelligent design component to our ability to speak and communicate I think we also have to consider how this all works with other animals as well.
This case jumped out at me. I had a dog once. She did seem to understand words, but it took a lot of work. We struggled to communicate, even so. What did I expect, really? I'm not a dog. Further, she was taken from her mother almost as soon as she was born. So what did she even know about her own capacity for communication? I only had the one dog, I have no basis for comparison. None the less, I think this is the right line of inquiry.

Ultimately, I want to know if sound has inherent meaning. I want to know if language is in-part a gift from beyond the biological realm. I want to know if my dog and I were grounded (in and sharing space with) a meaningful, true universe, or if the two of us were just barking back and forth from two utterly different worlds until we deduced meaning from our irrelative perceptions of the invariant patterns therein! Woe is me.

As for the primates, linguists have largely exaggerated their language capacity. Primates can only learn about 1000 signs in average, and they can´t produce single sentences, for example. Or VERY simple ones, after years and years of training. For the most part, they don´t communicate, they only point at things. They have a very limited "theory of mind" (the capacity to guess what others are thinking). They lack MANY components of language.
Sorry I just really like talking about animals. It's been observed that brain size in primates roughly corresponds with their rate of development, insofar as the longer it takes for a primate species to reach sexual maturity, the longer it spends with its mother. I swear, this is at least somewhat connected to the problem.

So a ring-tailed lemur, for example, has a terminally tiny brain. It clings to its mother for half a year and by year 2 or 3 it reaches sexual maturity. Gibbons stay with their mothers for a year, remain close by for several more, and reach sexual maturity by 6 or 7. Baby orangutans are cared for/taught by their mothers for around 6 to 7 years, then at around the 12-14 year mark they reach sexual maturity and repeat the cycle with their own offspring. I'm not a primatologist, but there's a few ways I can think to look at this:
  • all primates are learning something from their mothers when they're still developing
  • some primates have a, let's say, "grander" capacity to learn than others (brain size)
  • primates with a grander capacity spend more time with their mothers
  • the time it takes a primate to reach sexual maturity also correlates with time they spend developing with their mothers
I was reading by age 5. My parents thought it was important. Up until that point, I was cared for 24/7 - spoken to and read to constantly. They put words in front of my eyes every day. Why? They taught me how to express complex feelings with sound and also how to read without speaking. I actually heard the words in my mind. I still do. That's quite a cognitive feat, actually. So there's a lot of overlap with those four points. That's four different angles to look at child rearing, brain size and rate of development into sexual maturity, cut across a loose spectrum of primates. And while I can plug neatly into it, one big difference really seems to stick out.

Still, by 7 I could write a few sentences. The rudiments of speaking, reading and writing got me through elementary school, on and on. I imagine I reached sexual maturity around the same time I moved out, which took maybe 4 years longer than an orangutan. It's lucky I learned how to read and write. If I hadn't, I would have flunked out of school and my prospects would have been pretty limited compared with my peers. That says more about our society and the anxiety of my parents than it does about any kind of evolution, I think, but it's noteworthy. Today, I consider these my strongest assets. I'm also cognizant of the fact that, had I been born into my ancestry 1000 years ago, I wouldn't have had a reason to read or write and I doubt anyone would have seriously judged my speech.

This ignores that human children learn language (which has NO immediate reproductive advantage), and that women and men have an equal capacity for language, etc. Not to mention that to go from grunts to complex grammar, you have a long way to go. And how on Earth would having subordinated clauses or subjunctive be evolutionary advantageous? And how, if human dispersion is true, language evolved so similarly across vast terrotories, and among people who weren't in contact with each other? it would be a striking case of parallel evolution. It's ridiculous.
Yes, exactly. I can look at primates and while I can see striking similarities, articulate speech is not on the list. That's useful. I know that there are non-human animals that engage in types of language, but I want to know that language for me is extra-cognitive, extra-biological, that it's reaching through the world, into me. Or maybe I want to know that birdsong is also extra-cognitive, that they are taking in the objective world through sound. Though there's still the issue of how their sense organs limit what passes from the world to perception and then again through interpretation.

I especially want to say that it's objectively meaningful and not merely symbolic jibberish. I want to say that sounds carry objective truth. Someone mentioned code (programming languages) a few pages back. That's what I want to avoid. I want to know that my parents helped me learn something transcending biology and not merely a tool for assembling relatively complex meaning in order to survive society to reproductive age.

This next part, I have to quote the whole thing:

So it is not uncommon to be in a conversation where gestures are used in conversing. And it is accepted and not given much thought - it's taken as natural.

But as her speaking ability was refined, so too was her gestures. So it caught my attention and I studied her gestures - and we were on friendly terms - so that I could admire and study her art of gab. And so, she had 5 moves. Fingers together and fully extended... palm down, palm up, fingers pointing to chest, fingers pointing outward. Then it was palm down, circling around to palm up - which was like a period - in punctuation.

And she did this on the phone too, so it made me think it was a kind of syntax of her own to assist her in structuring her speech.

So having learned her moves, I jokingly began gesturing to her as she would me - we joked a lot - and she just looked at me, studying me with a gaze, then walked away. I still don't know how she took it, but we always got along.

Another case of gesturing comes from my mother... she is kindly and good spirited, but her expression is lacking. So her gestures are an attempt at clarification, but resulting in the opposite. Her arms flail about. And about specific details she'll use her pointy finger and do what looks to be scribbling on paper, where you'd think she was gesturing erasing what ever it was she is trying to convey - like that's really helpful, mom... what were you trying to tell me?

I wonder what I do - subconsciously - when I speak, and all I can come up with is I look towards the ceiling - where the ceiling meets the wall.

So, when it comes to language augments it is audio, with sounds, and visual with gestures.

Okay, here's where I'm really in over my head, so please correct me if I'm off base:
  • That's a ball!
  • It's a ball!
  • This is a ball!
  • There's a ball!
"A ball" is the invariant fragment of all four sentences. If there was a ball in front of me and you wanted to tell me what it was, you could keep calling it a ball, but you might also gesture toward the ball. You could pick the ball up, point at it, look at it, look at me then look at the ball, put it in my hands and call it a ball, so on.

I suppose what I'm wondering, ultimately, is: Is language actually a thing in itself? Or is it an elaborate extension of gesturing (a kind of symbolism)?

We have these big, complex brains that have the capacity to run highly articulate cognitive exercises. We are trained from birth to use our senses to isolate invariant fragments of meaning from phenomena we're perceiving. From our parents, say. We communicate often with non-human animals and listen in on birdsong and so on. We can also generate meaning from what we learned. That's kind of the whole point of language, but it's not limited to language. The same rapid eye movements on tuesday can mean something different to us on wednesday. There is no inherent meaning to rapid eye movements, but we induce meaning by educating eachother. It stands to reason that, due to the near-infinite combinations of meaning, the only limit to the meaning we can generate together is the time in which we have to do it.

So I can take what I learned and apply it to more complex use. I can trace learned phonemes and their associated meanings back to the intensive, complex learning process between my parents and I when I was wee. And if I need an explanation for why sound and meaning feel intuitively connected, I can just reflect on the fact that I've been obsessively engaged in this social behaviour my whole life and my brain has been dutifully developing around it. Like moss on a statue; pointedly unlike a statue on moss.

I can tell this entire story about language acquisition and deriving meaning from the world and to my horror there is nothing here that distinguishes this process as anything other than an internal faculty of the brain, of the body. We can use this means of representation and signification between us and even with non-human animals to some extent and I can explain it to myself with conventional knowledge of cognitive reactivity, developmental psychology and some notion of sense memory.

I didn't have to reach out into the universe for meaning's origin. I don't have to explain whether a rock is a rock or an atomic pile or a wave-form in an energy soup. I can speculate about all that, (and believe me, I do) but it doesn't seem necessary. I tap my finger on my desk and, although I receive information, I completely miss the depth and breadth of physics in the universe. While it's within my ability to interpret from data, it's beyond my perception. I send and receive meaningful gestures in various ways. That phenomenon may come to me via some cosmic influence, but it requires heavy guess-work and speculation to explain it so.

Whereas, I have this boring, conventional, non-mystical, social, biological, developmental model that takes place entirely within the confines of my brain and the brains of others - a kind of mutual cognitive trickery that does not require objective knowledge to function. Any insights or thoughts are appreciated. I'd love to figure out which part of this is the false bottom so that I can kick it out and fall through the hole of the zero into the real world.
 

Wandering Star

The Living Force
So you're just a walking little Einstein (we all are) when it comes to language. And yeah, to me it's like magical. It's amazing. The richness of language is unbelievable, and we often take it for granted just like we do for most of our other capacities, or even the parts of our.... how our body works as a whole.
As I read this, the word subconscious came to mind.

When I was a kid, I practiced and practiced to be a good soccer player. I would observe some "trick" in another player and I would try to learn it. There was no way, it didn't come out on the playing field, until I stopped trying and I just saw it in my mind and I told myself, I'll know how to do it. The next day, without thinking, when it was necessary in the game, I did it perfectly. I knew that I didn't have to "think" for me to do the tricks in the game, the tricks had to be a part of me.

On the other hand, I remember when I had to speak English to someone for the first time. I had basic English (almost non-existent) so I didn't understand anything.

When I "thought", now I'm going to say this and that, I couldn't "find" the words, I got stuck.

However, when I focused on the person, on wanting to help them, without suddenly thinking I was talking to them. Of course my speech was horrible, but we both communicated.

I have heard that the best way to learn a language is to live where it is spoken, which forces one to use the language.

The "need" makes the subconscious flow what is necessary and learning is greatly accelerated.

Suddenly, one day, without effort, "without thinking", you are understanding what a guy on TV is saying.
 

Keit

Ambassador
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I stumbled upon the following fascinating article!


In early December 2021, I was seeing a physical therapist for a shoulder injury. During one of my visits, the therapist was alternating between me and another patient on an adjacent bed, who had a knee replacement.

While the therapist worked on the other patient's leg, stretching it and bending the knee, I eavesdropped on their conversation.

The patient was in pain, anxious to complete the hard part of the therapy. The therapist was encouraging him to keep working.

At one point the patient expressed a desire to quit. The therapist responded "Te queda una semanita más." This translates to "You have a short week left." The patient agreed to continue.

By adding the suffix "ita" to the word "semana," – or week – the therapist offered the patient a perspective on how much therapy remained in a way that sounded shorter, even though it was still a full week.

This ability to minimize or exaggerate a situation by simply adding a suffix is one feature of the Spanish language that could contribute to a striking resilience in health that researchers have documented in Hispanic populations in the United States, called the "Hispanic Paradox."

As a Hispanic quantitative psychologist, I have been involved in research on stress and cardiovascular health at the University of Miami since 1988. More recently, I joined the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos as an investigator.

This observational study of over 16,000 adults documents the health of Hispanics of various backgrounds in four urban communities in the U.S.

Unraveling the Hispanic Paradox​

About 30 years ago, researchers reported that Hispanics in the United States lived longer and had lower rates of heart disease than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

This is despite having a high prevalence of risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity and diabetes, and experiencing stress from discrimination and low wages.

Heart disease killed 696,962 persons in the U.S. last year. The causes involve interactions between genetics and environmental factors such as smoking, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming a high fat diet. These behaviors contribute to heart disease and stroke.

Stress also contributes to heart disease.

How people react to that stress is important, too. The extent to which our language facilitates how we process our emotions in response to stress may therefore be important in heart disease.

For that reason, the Spanish language may offer an advantage. Having lived a bilingual life, I believe this to be true.

This seeming paradox between Hispanics' higher health risk yet lower overall rate of heart disease came to be called the Hispanic Paradox. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hispanics lived on average three years longer than their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cause of this resilience has been a topic of interest to researchers for decades. They have proposed explanations from statistical bias to bean consumption to cultural values such as "familismo," the notion that the Hispanic culture places family over the individual.

Family ties alone can't explain the Hispanic Paradox​

I became intrigued by this phenomenon when I joined the Hispanic Community Health Study in 2008. My first attempt at finding an explanation for the Hispanic Paradox led me to investigate whether the family unit might offer some protection against early life stress.

In that work, I estimated the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences in Hispanics in the U.S. If the family was a source of resilience, I expected to find low rates of experiences of abuse, neglect, or family dysfunction.

But to my surprise, the prevalence of these adverse events was actually quite high in those populations. In fact, 77 percent of the target population reported experiencing at least one adverse childhood event, and about 29 percent reported experiencing four or more before the age of 18.

That led me to the realization that the source of the resilience seen in the Hispanic Paradox did not necessarily come from the safety net of family.

Exploring how culture could contribute​

I next turned my attention to other cultural resources such as social support and optimism, factors that may buffer the impact of stress.

Is the Hispanic culture more optimistic than the American culture? Having an optimistic view can help people think about stress as being temporary and manageable. Optimism can make a person feel they can cope with stress.

I came across a paper on the positivity of human language. The researchers had developed a "happy index" that they applied to measure the number of positive words in a variety of sources from several different languages. They analyzed books, newspapers, music lyrics, and tweets, for instance.

A figure in the paper showed the distribution of the happy index across sources and languages. The result was startling. The sources with the highest happy index ratings were those in Spanish!

Once I identified the Spanish language as a focus, the pieces began falling into place. I relied on linguistic analyses to examine the role of language in emotion. A current theory of emotion describes how people need language in order for their brains to construct emotions.

Research shows that emotions influence how blood pressure and heart rate react to and recover from stress. And our reactions and recovery from stress play a central role in the development of heart disease.

In other words, the rich and positive emotion lexicon of the Spanish language may not only influence culture over time but also influence our emotional reaction to stress.

The contribution of verbs​

However, it may not only be the positive words that are contributing to better cardiovascular health in Hispanic populations. There are other features of the language that facilitate emotional expression.

Take, for example, the two forms of the verb "to be." In English, we simply "are." But in Spanish, we can be a certain way temporarily – "estar" – or more permanently, "ser." This comes in handy when considering negative situations.

In English, I could be overweight. In Spanish, I can be permanently overweight, which translates to "ser gorda," or I could be temporarily overweight, or "estar gorda." The latter is transient and entertains the possibility of change, which can itself encourage motivation towards change.

Spanish is one romance language that makes use of the subjunctive form of verbs. The subjunctive expresses hypothetical situations, wishes, and possibilities.

For instance, consider the "magical realism" of the Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. His use of the subjunctive facilitated the possibility of alternative realities.

The Spanish language's ability to minimize and exaggerate by the simple addition of a suffix also increases the range of emotions and perceptions. This is how the therapist in the example helped his patient persevere through a difficult phase of therapy.

While English is the language of science – precise and succinct – my hunch is that the flowery nature of Spanish contributes to a culture that supports emotional expression.

In doing so, it can help its speakers manage the responses to stress.
The Conversation


Maria Magdalena Llabre, Professor of Psychology, University of Miami.
 
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BHelmet

The Living Force
What a huge ambitious topic.

Another side to this coin is listening. Language does not occur in a vacuum. It is spoken into a listening. All you have to do is to try to speak to someone on the other side of a political spectrum-you can sense the listening is so thick you need a knife to cut through it. They can not actually even hear what you are meaning to say no matter how articulate you might be.

And the emotional tone is a huge part of any communication. Even the thoughts of the speaker have an impact. The exact same words spoken in 2 different tones can have the opposite meaning.

What I am saying is obvious. It is so complex. Throw in the emotional triggers from past experiences and it only gets worse. This is why it is such a joy to discover someone who actually “gets” you.
 
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