The Language Revolution

Anthropological thinkers define humanity’s trajectory in terms of revolutions – the Industrial revolution, digital revolution, etc. From what I can tell, the latest revolution is the information revolution or the digital revolution, maybe tied with Borlaugh’s Green Revolution. But what was the first? History texts say it was the agricultural revolution, but I think there might’ve been an earlier one: Language.

I’m not a linguist, but there are so many interesting advantages languages give not only cultures on one another, but humans as a species. The experiments with animal cognition (Koko the Gorilla, Alex the parrot, etc) are curious because of how … different those animals became from their counterparts. I once read about how babies don’t remember prior to certain point because their memories are effected by language acquisition. Historical cases of bilingual writers show a similar capacity for two sets of memories based on two separate languages. These writers also noted that they felt as though each language gave them different personality traits. It is well documented that speaking Chinese allows an individual to achieve pitch perfect hearing more easily because it is such a tonal language. Being bilingual also helps mitigate susceptibility to cognitive biases like framing.

But this leads to an obvious question: Isn’t language a cognitive biases itself? The examples I listed above show how language influences the self and ones perception of the world. Some of these cognitive biases can be sidestepped by knowing more than one language, but what cognitive biases are inherent to language itself?

I think this also partial explains my fascination with artists and musicians – their medium enables them to think in ways that are not linguistic and thus they more than others tend not to be bogged down by the biases of language itself. This might also explain many artists’ inability to discuss their art. To translate from visual/kinetic/auditory/etc to language loses meaning.

There are two relations to earlier posts that I see. One is if language influences perception, how does this play into the whole sensory->emotional->Intellect->??? thought. Two would, is it possible for the closed system of language to recognize its own biases or is this the inevitable self-referential question of all closed systems?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s