Posts Tagged ‘language’

The inherent logic of the universe – but not language – was established by the Big Bang

June 16, 2017

You could call this the First Law of Everything.

Logic is embedded in the universe.

At the Big Bang we have no idea what the prevailing laws were. Physicists merely call it a singularity where the known laws of physics did not apply. It was just another Creation Event. But thereafter – after the Big Bang – everything we observe in the universe is logical. We take logic to be inherent in the Universe around us. We discover facets of this embedded logic empirically and intuitively (and intuition is merely the synthesis of empiricism). We do not invent logic – we discover it. If logic was ever created it was created at the time of the Big Bang.

Language, on the other hand, is invented by man to describe and communicate the world around us. We build into the framework of our languages, rules of logic such that the use of language is consistent with the embedded logic of the universe. But language is not always equal to the task of describing the universe around us. “I have not the words to describe ….”. And then we imbue old words with new meanings or invent new words, or new grammar. But we never make changes which are not consistent with the logic of the universe.

Reasoning with language is then constrained to lie within the logical framework so constructed and therefore, also always consistent with our empirical observations of the universe around us. Given certain assumptions – as expressed by language – always lead to the same logical inferences – also as described by that language. Such inferring, or reasoning, works and – within our observable universe – is a powerful way of extrapolating from the known to the not-yet-known. The logical framework itself ensures that the inferences drawn remain consistent with the logic of the universe.

In the sentence “If A is bigger than B, and if B is bigger than C, then A is bigger than C”, it is the logic framework of the language which constrains if, then and bigger to have meanings which are consistent with what we can observe. The logic framework is not the grammar of the language. Grammar would allow me to say: “If A is bigger than B, and if B is bigger than C, then A is smaller/louder/faster/heavier than C”, but the embedded logic framework of the language is what makes it ridiculous. The validity of the reasoning or of inferring requires that the logic framework of the language not be infringed. “If A is bigger than B, and if B is bigger than C, then A is smaller than C” is grammatically correct but logically invalid (incorrect). However, the statement “If A is bigger than B, and if B is bigger than C, then A is heavier than C” is grammatically correct, logically invalid but not necessarily incorrect.

Mathematics (including Symbolic Logic) also contains many languages which provide a better means of describing facets of the universe which other languages cannot. But they all contain a logic framework consistent with the embedded logic of the universe. That 1 + 1 =2 is a discovery – not an invention. That 2H2 + O2 = 2H2O is also a discovery, not an invention. The rules for mathematical operations in the different branches of mathematics must always remain consistent with the embedded logic of the universe – even if the language invented has still to find actual application. Imaginary numbers and the square root of -1 were triggered by the needs of the electrical engineers. Set theory, however, was only used in physics and computing long after it was “invented”.

Languages (including mathematics) are invented but each must have a logical framework which itself is consistent with the inherent logic of the universe.


God is an hypothesis and a mathematician is a linguist

May 6, 2014

Science discovers, engineering invents.

Eyes are to vision as language is to discovery.

To be discovered it must first be imaginable.

To describe and communicate what can be imagined needs language.

To be “discovered” requires that something imagined in a language be “sensed” (observed or measured or calculated or inferred).

Something imagined to exist but not yet discovered is a faith – an hypothesis.

Without the attribute of hearing, there is no sound.

Discoveries need a suitable language to first describe them before they can be found (Mathematics, Chemistry, Algebra, Logic….).

Language is an invention and can not be discovered.

The application of discovered science to the manufacturing of artefacts is engineering.

Mathematics is a language and a mathematician is a linguist (an engineer).

Logic is a language and a logician is a philosopher.

Philosophers imagine and describe but neither discover nor invent.

Music is a science and a musician is a scientist.

Painting (or sculpture) is engineering and the artist is an engineer.

Medicine is a science but a practising physician is an engineer.

The symbol for a thing is not the thing.

God is an hypothesis and a mathematician is a linguist.


Gender is a continuum, gayness is not gaiety and language has to catch up

March 30, 2014

Gender as a binodal continuum

The view that human gender is strictly dimorphic is giving way to the view that gender must be seen as a binodal continuum. How many people are “transgender” at birth  is uncertain both in number and in definition, but estimates range from 1 in 2000 all the way up to 10%. In addition to this modified view of genetic, gender variations in humans, the range  of socially “acceptable” behaviours is expanding. More countries are legalising “gay marriage”. LGBT (for  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) is becoming an accepted term.

Changes are happening faster than language can keep up with. Old terms are being used in new ways and new words will need to be found. Elljibeetee is almost a word. I find the term LGBT itself somewhat illogical since I take “gay” in its modern usage to mean “homosexual” and would have thought that “gay” would then encompass “lesbian”. There is no word for just male homosexuality. Also L, G and B are primarily behavioural traits whereas T is genetic and fixed by the time of birth. There are those who claim that sexual preference is also genetic but there is little evidence for that. What evidence there is speaks more to sexual preference being a behavioural trait acquired and developed largely after birth.

Unlike mathematics, the usage of most languages always trumps “correctness” or logic (and I like to think of mathematics as that special sub-set of language where logic prevails over usage). The spelling or even meaning of a word can be changed by weight of usage but 2+2 will not be 5 even if all 7 billion humans believe it is.

We now have the situation where monogamy refers not to one but to two people while bisexuality cannot be implemented without at least three people involved. Monosexual is taken to be a sexual preference for only one gender with a sub-set of homosexual (a preference for persons of the same gender) and a sub-set of heterosexual (a preference for persons of the opposite gender). Bisexual – in common usage – is taken to be a preference for any gender. The illogicality comes in that heterosexual is linguistically a sub-set of monosexual but is actually bisexualPolysexual or pansexual would make more sense than bisexual if gender is now to be seen as a continuum but they are rarely used. Having a gender continuum is going to get even more confusing for language.

Gaiety can still be used for the state of being gay (in the cheerful sense) and carries no connotations of sexual preferences. Gay however can no longer be used just to mean merry and cheerful since usage overwhelmingly means homosexual. Gayness is now presumably the state of being gay.

Currently monogamy is then the state where there is a permanent or semi-permanent partnership between a male and a female. If formalised by civil contract the state is called marriage. The male is termed the husband and the female the wife. Even if gender is a continuum and not dimorphic, these terms can continue to be used since societies expect these roles to be fulfilled. Perhaps we have to consider using grades of manliness and womanliness? In the diagram above a very manly man will be just as far from the “normal” (abnormal)  as a very womanly man or a very manly woman! The very manly man and the very womanly woman would be the most lonely.

A part of such a civil contract is the mutual exclusivity of sexual relations promised between the two individuals involved. Where a male breaks such exclusivity by having sexual relations with other females, such other females are called his mistresses. Where a female breaks such exclusivity by having sexual relationships with other males they are not her masters but are known as her lovers or paramours. Lovers and paramours can equally apply as the illicit partners of  errant husbandsIf either a male or a female breaks the exclusivity provisions by entering into another “exclusive” arrangement then it is called bigamy and the violator is called a bigamist. The term bigamist also applies in the case of multiple “exclusive” contracts being entered into by an individual (and using the more logical polygamist for such a person would go against current usage of polygamy).

When marriage is extended to include a new category of gay marriage, terms for the partners themselves and for any illicit partners are undefined. Husband, wife and mistress can no longer be used. New words will no doubt evolve. Language already lags behind socially accepted behaviour. Lover and paramour could still be used and I suppose that bigamy and bigamist would still apply. A conventional marriage would still need to be distinguished from a gay marriage. All marriage involving just two individuals should then be monogamy with conventional marriage being a bisexual monogamy and a gay marriage would be a monosexual monogamy. And with the continuum in mind some partnerships could be pansexual monogamies.

When there are more than two people involved things get complex. The possibilities that language must cope with increase in a geometric progression. Some societies permit a husband to have several wives simultaneously and this is termed polygyny whereas a wife having several husbands is polyandry. They are both forms of polygamy (or more logically both are bisexual polygamies assuming of course that sexual relationships in the group are always heterosexual or do I mean bisexual?). Group marriage has no special term and exists when several husbands are allied to several wives but any husband only has sexual relations with any wife (a poly-bisexual polygamy?) What should we then call a group consisting of a man with several husbands or a female with several wives? A poly-monosexual polygamy? And a group of people with no restrictions on sexual partners could then be a  polypansexual polygamy?

If gender were truly a continuum then the male/female distinctions could be dispensed with and many of the prefixes could be discarded. Misogyny and misandry would become obsolete. Misanthropy would still remain. But the gender continuum is weak  – even if real – and the fact remains that the distribution of gender characteristics among humans is very strongly binodal. “Binodal with a significant overlap” is probably the best description. As long as the clear nodal distribution exists then gender differences will also exist and legislating for gender equality will not remove those differences.

Prefixes from the Greek

  • mono = “one, only, single”
  • bi = “twice, two”
  • homo = “same”
  • hetero = “different, other”
  • pan =  “all, of everything”
  • poly = “much, many”

There are “keepers of language” who would like to guide its evolution and there others who are concerned about the “correctness” of usage. Both are futile exercises and actual usage will always prevail.

On when speech may have originated

March 3, 2014

A new paper suggests that the Kebara 2 Neanderthals, some 60,000 years ago, not only had the capability but also used speech. The capability for speech itself has now been pushed back to the common ancestors of Anatomically Modern Humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans to about 500,000 years ago. The picture we have of Neanderthals is now of a fairly sophisticated and complex species:

  1. Neanderthals may have spoken in a similar way to modern humans.
  2. Neanderthals are our closest extinct human relatives.
  3. Neanderthal DNA is over 99% identical to modern human DNA.
  4. Several theories for Neanderthal extinction exist, including impacts of climate change, competition with human beings, and the possibility that Neanderthals and humans interbred and were ‘absorbed’ into the human species.
  5. Neanderthals lived in Eurasia 200,000 – 30,000 years ago in the Pleistocene Epoch
  6. Neanderthals and our human ancestors lived on Earth at the same time.
  7. Neanderthals lived in family groups and looked after their sick and infirm. 
  8. Neanderthals used tools made from bone, stone, antlers and other materials. 
  9. Neanderthals used fire, and even ate cooked vegetables. 

Moreover it is clear that all non-Africans carry some 3% of Neanderthal genes. And so – in my speculation – it would be perfectly consistent with not only the Neanderthals of the Kebara 2 study having speech, but also with all Neanderthals from about 200,000 years ago, having some form of – at least – rudimentary speech.

I have no doubt that speech originated from an intense need to communicate and developed in complexity and sophistication as the complex needs of the societies that developed required more nuanced communication. And if this happened 500,000 years ago then I find it not implausible that there are connections between the controlled use of fire, the growth of complex social interactions, the need for nuanced communications and the development of speech.

Visions arise of camp fires and a society with time for gatherings and then – inevitably – for story-telling! And for tall tales. Lying after all is a construct of language!

But speech was probably invented many times and only became language when some critical mass of people shared the same sounds for the same meanings. Within a single tribe or troop this critical mass for the beginnings of a rudimentary language was probably no more than a handful of individuals. What the first words ever spoken were can only be a matter of speculation. A case can be made for the “ma”, “ba” and “pa” sounds being the first to be repeated but also among the earliest ever words for communication would have been danger, here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

The first word(s) ever spoken

January 11, 2014

A recent conversation at a bar where – in the noise – I was served a whiskey instead of a beer led to a discussion of how sounds and/or gestures became words. Before the bar closed we came to the following conclusions:

  1. A sound becomes a  word only when at least two people use (both make and hear) the same sound for the same meaning.
  2. Probably many such words were “invented” by pairs of people but these never developed any further – either by spreading to others or becoming incorporated with other words to develop into language.
  3. Hand gestures are a consequence – indirectly – of human bipedalism.
  4. First came sounds. Then came sounds/gestures which became gestures/words.Words probably developed from sounds and hand gestures being used together with the words later coming to dominate.
  5. Fundamental hand gestures are almost universally understood today and probably have had similar meanings in antiquity and with the earliest humans.
  6. Fundamental gestures do not need sound for their basic meaning but cannot convey nuances and detail in themselves. Moreover the gestures were invisible in the dark or when out of sight but still within earshot.
  7. The sounds associated with these gestures were most likely among the earliest group of words. But we felt they must have been preceded by a sound – later a word – meaning “danger”. There may well have been a number of sounds describing different kinds of danger.
  8. These fundamental meanings that are readily communicated by gesture alone include: Here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

So our considered opinion was that the earliest ever word was danger closely followed by here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

But if man had not come down from the trees and freed his hands , sounds would not have become words and words would not have become language.

In Vino Veritas!

Numeracy and language

December 2, 2013

I tend towards considering mathematics a language rather than a science. In fact mathematics is more like a family of languages each with a rigorous grammar. I like this quote:

R. L. E. SchwarzenbergerThe Language of Geometry, in A Mathematical Spectrum Miscellany, Applied Probability Trust, 2000, p. 112:

My own attitude, which I share with many of my colleagues, is simply that mathematics is a language. Like English, or Latin, or Chinese, there are certain concepts for which mathematics is particularly well suited: it would be as foolish to attempt to write a love poem in the language of mathematics as to prove the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra using the English language.

Just as conventional languages enable culture and provide a tool for social communication, the various languages of mathematics, I think, enable science and provide a tool for scientific discourse. I take “science” here to be analaogous to a “culture”. To follow that thought then, just as science is embedded within a “larger” culture, so is mathematics embedded within conventional languages. This embedding shows up as the ability of a language to deal with numeracy and numerical concepts.

And that means then the value judgement of what is “primitive” when applied to language can depend upon the extent to which mathematics and therefore numeracy is embedded within that language.

GeoCurrents examines numeracy embedded within languages:

According to a recent article by Mike Vuolo in, Pirahã is among “only a few documented cases” of languages that almost completely lack of numbers. Dan Everett, a renowned expert in the Pirahã language, further claims that the lack of numeracy is just one of many linguistic deficiencies of this language, which he relates to gaps in the Pirahã culture. ….. 

The various types of number systems are considered in the article on Numeral Bases, written by Bernard Comrie. Of the 196 languages in the sample, 88% can handle an infinite set of numerals. To do so, languages use some arithmetic base to construct numeral expressions. According to Comrie, “we live in a decimal world”: two thirds of the world’s languages use base 10 and such languages are spoken “in nearly every part of the world”. English, Russian, and Mandarin are three examples of such languages. ….. 

Around 20% of the world’s languages use either purely vigesimal (or base 20) or a hybrid vigesimal-decimal system. In a purely vigesimal system, the base is consistently 20, yielding the general formula for constructing numerals as x20 + y. For example, in Diola-Fogny, a Niger-Congo language spoken in Senegal, 51 is expressed as bukan ku-gaba di uɲɛn di b-əkɔn ‘two twenties and eleven’. Other languages with a purely vigesimal system include Arawak spoken in Suriname, Chukchi spoken in the Russian Far East, Yimas in Papua New Guinea, and Tamang in Nepal. In a hybrid vigesimal-decimal system, numbers up to 99 use base 20, but the system then shifts to being decimal for the expression of the hundreds, so that one ends up with expressions of the type x100 + y20 + z. A good example of such a system is Basque, where 256 is expressed as berr-eun eta berr-ogei-ta-hama-sei ‘two hundred and two-twenty-and-ten-six’. Other hybrid vigesimal-decimal systems are found in Abkhaz in the Caucasus, Burushaski in northern Pakistan, Fulfulde in West Africa, Jakaltek in Guatemala, and Greenlandic. In a few mostly decimal languages, moreover, a small proportion of the overall numerical system is vigesimal. In French, for example, numerals in the range 80-99 have a vigesimal structure: 97 is thus expressed as quatre-vingt-dix-sept ‘four-twenty-ten-seven’. Only five languages in the WALS sample use a base that is neither 10 nor 20. For instance, Ekari, a Trans-New Guinean language spoken in Indonesian Papua uses base of 60, as did the ancient Near Eastern language Sumerian, which has bequeathed to us our system of counting seconds and minutes. Besides Ekari, non-10-non-20-base languages include Embera Chami in Colombia, Ngiti in Democratic Republic of Congo, Supyire in Mali, and Tommo So in Mali. …… 

Going back to the various types of counting, some languages use a restricted system that does not effectively go above around 20, and some languages are even more limited, as is the case in Pirahã. The WALS sample contains 20 such languages, all but one of which are spoken in either Australia, highland New Guinea, or Amazonia. The one such language found outside these areas is !Xóõ, a Khoisan language spoken in Botswana. ……. 

Read the whole article. 

Counting monkey?

In some societies in the ancient past, numeracy did not contribute significantly to survival as probably with isolated tribes like the Pirahã. But in most human societies, numeracy was of significant benefit especially for cooperation between different bands of humans. I suspect that it was the need for social cooperation which fed the need for communication within a tribe and among tribes, which in turn was the spur to the development of language, perhaps over 100,000 years ago. What instigated the need to count is in the realm of speculation. The need for a calendar would only have developed with the development of agriculture. But the need for counting herds probably came earlier in a semi-nomadic phase. Even earlier than that would have come the need to trade with other hunter gatherer groups and that  probably gave rise to counting 50,000 years ago or even earlier. The tribes who learned to trade and developed the ability and concepts of trading were probably the tribes that had the best prospects of surviving while moving from one territory to another. It could be that the ability to trade was an indicator of how far a group could move.

And so I am inclined to think that numeracy in language became a critical factor which 30,000 to 50,000 years ago determined the groups which survived and prospered. It may well be that it is these tribes which developed numbers, and learned to count, and learned to trade that eventually populated most of the globe. It may be a little far-fetched but not impossible that numeracy in language may have been one of the features distinguishing Anatomically Modern Humans from Neanderthals. Even though the Neanderthals had larger brains and that we are all Neanderthals to some extent!

How to write good!

October 21, 2013

Oh, very good. (via This Got My Attention)

The need for communication leads to speech and grammar and language

February 25, 2013

Extracts from a recent lecture

from liu presentation -Communication for Managers

  1. Thinking gives rise to words
  2. Words are not necessary for thought –but they help
  3. Many words and many people give rise to the need for cooperation which needs communication
  4. The need for communication leads to speech and grammar and language
  5. Grammar is not necessary for thought – but it helps
  6. Language is not necessary for communication – but it helps
  7. Speech is not necessary for language – but it helps
  8. Message is an information package
  9. Meaning comes first and is necessary for message and needs an algorithm for the conversion
  10. Information is whatever can be detected by our senses (sensory, aural, visual, olefactory…..)



April 1, 2012

There are many web-sites which are informative and educational. But only some of them are intelligent and a few of these are required reading and a very,very few of them are a just a delight to read.

Dr. Goodwood’s language blog is one of them.

And the story of paraprosdokians is something I learned today:

Paraprosdokian is not an Armenian writer or football coach but a figure of speech characterized by an abrupt change of direction at the end. It is a phrase that intentionally leads us down the garden path, that misleads us into thinking one way, then suddenly ending on an unexpected twist. Stand-up comedians who like one-liners use lots of them because the setup and punchline are all in a single line.

Here are some examples: …

  • There but for the grace of God goes God. —Sir Winston Churchill, a comment on Sir Stafford Cripps, British socialist philosopher
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right—but three lefts do.
  • Now, you take my wife . . . PLEASE! —Henny Youngman
  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.
  • War does not determine who is right—only who is left. 
  • The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.
  • ……..
  • Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go. —Oscar Wilde
And this one applies perfectly to me: You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

Developing language of Global Warming

June 21, 2010

alarmist –  a paranoid Warmist

AGW –  a religion propogating the homo-centric view of the universe and denying any influence of the sun

climate scientist  –  one who tricks successfully; a failed  statistician

climategate –  release on the internet of the inner workings of the hockeystick team

denialist  –  a heretical sceptic

Gore   –  a figurehead for AGW

hockeystick   – a Warmist religious symbol; a graph depicting the uncontrolled increase of any paramater

hockeystick team  – a small group of fanatical Warmists who created the hockeystick symbol by a trick

IPCC   – The High Church of AGW; primarily an advocacy group for the generation of funds for Warmist projects

Jones  – A Warmist priest and member of the UK Chapter of the hockeystick team

Mann  –  A Warmist priest and inventor of the trick

mann  –  n. a successful practitioner of a trick (not to be confused with a human person)

(mann.ism  n. a trick; mann.ick  adj. manic)

Pachauri  –  High Priest of the IPCC, a railway engineer who underwent a religious conversion to Warmism

peer-review – process for preventing publication by heretics  comparable to excommunication

sceptic – a scientist; a heretic

trick  –   n. data manipulation by exclusion; v. to selectively exclude data to achieve a desired result

settled science – as defined by the High Church

voodoo science – any  scientific endeavour following the scientific method but not conforming to to Warmism dogma

Warmist    –  one who adheres to the religion of  man-made Global Warming

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