Intelligent design of Written Language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Carcano, Dec 1, 2007.

  1. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    [This post contains controversial assertions that stray far outside the bounds of linguistics. Members are urged not to shift this thread into discussions better suited for other subforums such as History and Human Science. Any posts that tend in that direction will be deleted. The poster has dutifully included a remark sucking up to the Moderator, a successful technique for avoiding personal criticism.

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    me too.

    I had expected to learn from him when I asked why, but not that jackpot of information.

    My POV on the economic future of China vs the US is well known here. Brief summary for the few who may not know: In a few decades the relative importance in the world will be reversed and China will surpass the US economically in a few years after the run on the dollar starts* (less than a decade from now.)

    Because of my age, I had decided it was too late for me to try to learn Mandarin (Portuguese, is giving me enough trouble, here in Brazil) After Fraggel's post I may want to reconsider that decision. I have a short wave radio and when spending nites alone in a motel use it. Quite often I hear good signals teaching Chinese, but in past I have quickly tunned elsewhere. That at least will change.

    It may not be only their better language for clear thinking that makes the Chinese test better in math and disproportionately do well in sciences courses (in my experience in US universities) but also they may have been more naturally selected for their problem solving and planning abilities. - Just a theory of mine based on fact all humans came out of Africa.

    Those groups that traveled thru long and difficult routes probably selectively lost "the dumber ones" - I.e. only the more intelligent ones made it over the mountains that start in Turkey, pass thru Tibet etc. or across the vast deserts of central China etc. They tested the strange white "flat land" in valleys we now call "iced over rivers," which their African father had never seen before walking out on it etc.

    By this theory, the Japanese should be even more intelligent than the Chinese as they did all that AND crossed a Sea. Caucasians should on average be dumber than both and the "stay behinds" in Africa who did not have these new envirmental challenges as selection agents should have the lowest intelligence on average. That is not PC, so I hasten to state that any differences that this theory suggests are very minute compared to the variation in all groups. - I.e. given the same educactional experience from birth probably the top 49% of the groups that never left Africa are intrensically more intellignet than the bottom 49% of the Japanese. But this is only a theory, put forth by a Caucasian. - So who would give that much credit? - It is sort of self contradictory is is not? - If it were valid, some Japanese would have published it long ago.

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    *China could start it tomorrow, but will not as they still need the US and EU markets for their productive capacity. The rapidly growing domestic wealth and long term obligations China has signed to assure its needed imports of energy, raw material and food stocks will be paid for by Chinese products in trade with these suppliers. When the total demand of this non-US, Non-EU trade plus domestic demand can absorb the Chinese factory output, then it will be to China's advantage to destroy the dollar as the resulting depression in US & EU will reduce the cost of these essential imports more than the losses in their central bank reserves of dollars.)
    Of course, one of the major Arab sellers of oil may act first to cause/ trigger the run on the dollar. There is considerable advantage to being the first to do so. There was consideralbe speculation about jointly decoupling from the Dollar prior to the just concluded meeting of these sellers. - sort of scary that not one word about that is in their released summary.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 8, 2007
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  3. Gustav Banned Banned

    i thought the arabs got their math from the hindus

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  5. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    I suspect they had earlier access(or rather retained) to old Egyptian, Greek or mesopotamian math, while Europe was getting fucked over by the Christians.
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  7. Gustav Banned Banned

    abacus shit?
    thats kid stuff

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  8. Yorda Registered Senior Member

  9. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Go away Philistine.
  10. Gustav Banned Banned

    no insult directed at you
    just the babs and egyptians
    the abacus is chinese actually
  11. Gustav Banned Banned

    the greeks could'nt add worth a shit
    dont blame em tho
    buggering lil boys is kinda fun, i guess
    math? will it fit. friction? vaseline

  12. Kadark Banned Banned

    I speak Turkish, and I can say that this is completely true. I've never read or written anything in Turkish until I was about fifteen-years old, because the situation never arose living in an English-speaking nation. Anyway, when I did go to write/read, it was instant, and very easy (even for words I didn't know). The language is spelled and read just as it sounds, which is very convenient.
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    India is one of the world's six original, independently arising civilizations (Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Olmec, Inca). It was well advanced by the time the Neolithic Arab and other Middle Eastern tribes coalesced into an offshoot of nearby Mesopotamian civilization, which had already diverged into distinct cultures such as Phoenician, Persian and Greco-Roman. The golden age of Arab civilization came during the first millennium CE. They assimilated the mathematics of the (also nearby) Indians, who had not advanced beyond the Greeks in pure theory but had made the important practical breakthrough of a positional numeral notation. The Arabs perfected this by establishing a workable representation for the concept and value of zero, giving rise to the decimal numbering system that is now in universal use.
    During the Dark Ages--the millennium of ignorance and squalor during which European civilization, under theocratic/bureaucratic leadership, regressed from the achievements of the Romans including some of their most important inventions like the sewer--the Arabs rescued much of the scholarship of the Classical Era. Of course this included the rudimentary science developed by the Greeks as well as their mathematics. AFAIK this was the most advanced on the planet from a theoretical standpoint, although other cultures had astounding mastery of practical math (or arithmetic), judging by their astronomy which is still in use by astrologers. Coupled with what they acquired from India, this put the Arabs in the position of being leaders in mathematics--or co-leaders, since the Indians had hardly stopped work in the field.

    Leonardo Fibonacci traveled to the Arabian lands and brought their positional decimal numbering system to Europe in the early 1200s. This spectacular technology must have astounded Europe's scientists and mathematicians, who immediately adopted it and soon progressed into their own astounding advances in mathematics, as well as helping to bring about the Enlightenment which saw the beginnings of modern science as we know it.

    Nonetheless it is instructive to note that no one else in Europe, not even shopkeepers who had bookkeeping to do as a matter of daily life, bothered to convert to "Arabic" numerals for about 300 years. Given this observation on human nature, those who criticize us Americans for being reluctant to adopt the metric system should instead marvel at the British for adopting it.

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    The earliest abacus-like technology was a tablet covered with a layer of fine sand, upon which words or symbols were written and (relatively) easily erased or changed to chart the progress of a transaction. The use of pebbles to indicate numbers was a natural evolution, and this recognizable form of the abacus was in use by the Babylonians in the 3rd millennium BCE. Evidence indicates that the next elaboration with beads on strings was invented somewhere in the larger region of the three overlapping civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. The earliest versions used a sexagesimal (base-60) system, with beads representing factors of 2, 2, 3 and 5. The Chinese played a large part in perfecting this cumbersome device into its familiar decimal-system form.
    My question is still unanswered: Since syllabic stress ("accent") is not indicated in Finnish writing, is it invariant, e.g. always on the first syllable like Czech, the penultimate like Polish, or the final like French?

    Or is it not prominent enough to be phonemic and it doesn't matter, like Chinese and Japanese?
    As noted above, it was invented by the Mesopotamians and perfected into its physical form with strings and beads by them or their neighbors. The Chinese had a hand in adapting it to the decimal system, but it cannot properly be called an artifact of Chinese technology.
    A strange comment considering that they calculated pi, square roots and trigonometric functions to several decimal places. They also carried forward the intricately precise calculations of celestial orbits passed down from earlier cultures. They had indisputably mastered what we today consider arithmetic.
    I have the same question regarding syllabic stress ("accent") as with Finnish. Does it matter? And if so is it invariant or at least so regular that it does not need to be indicated in writing?

    A writing system is not completely phonetic unless it transcribes all phonemes.
  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    To Fraggle Rocker:

    Have you ever thought of writting a book with a title like:

    "Development of the Apes that Speaks"

    Many would miss understand and pick up a book with that title expecting to read about some scientific project, which has taught some apes to speak, etc. not appreciating initially how remakable* it is than "nature" long ago made one that does, in many different forms. I recommend avoiding the word "History" in the title as reltaive few, I think, browsing in a book store even go to the History section, but you could check this out before chosing your title. (Perhaps that is just my bias as I seldom do.) "History" could replace "Development" for a more compact title. More compact is: A History of Speaking Apes

    If you do, and use that title, I expect to buy one at the "author's cost." I will tell where in USA or Brazil you can send it after cashing my check.
    *As I am sure you know, no machine is even close to speaking (or communicating via a keyboard and screen) well enough to be mistaken for one of these apes. I.e. the "Turing test." Wiki reports: "...There is an ongoing $10,000 bet at the Long Bet Project between Mitch Kapor and Ray Kurzweil about the question whether a computer will pass a Turing Test by the year 2029. The bet specifies the Turing Test in some detail. ..." My "side bet" of a lesser sum would be "Machine fails" if test is of couple of days duration, even if the date is extended to 2049. What do you think?
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 8, 2007
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't have the background to write a book on linguistics. I may pass for an expert here because I can stop and double-check the information in every line of every post, but out in the world of publishing I'm just an enthusiastic amateur.
    Koko the gorilla and Washoe the chimpanzee were taught to speak in ASL, which I think is a truly stupendous development. The last I heard, the speaking apes were teaching it to their companions. The experiment seems to have drifted off of the news radar and I'm not sure where it stands today. I've been waiting for some deaf people to become enthused about it and get the necessary education to join the project. They'd have a much different perspective on it from the primatologists who had to learn ASL. For a human who speaks ASL as his primary language to speak to an ape who was taught it by another ape would be a real milestone.
    I wouldn't be so quick to give nature the credit. We don't know that complex oral communication was not an idea that occurred to an early human as a combination of curiosity, imagination and fortuitous observation, like farming probably was. The only "natural" thing about it might be that humans are "by nature" curious, imaginative and observant.
    My profession is IT so I know where we stand with computer mastery of human language.
    Remembering the state of the art 22 years ago in 1985, I'd not be so confident about being able to predict the state of the art 22 years from now in 2029. I don't think it's going to happen quite that soon either, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on that bet.
    I think you'd be foolish to predict the state of the art 42 years in the future. Computers were into the third generation 42 years ago in 1965. No one predicted that by now a computer would have beat a chess champion, yet they'd still not be able to play go at tournament level. The difference between two problems can be inscrutable and some just turn out to be more difficult than others. We go players get a big chuckle out of the computers agreeing with us: Yes indeed, chess is much easier!

    Much of what we have today was predicted, including the internet. (E.g., The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.) We just couldn't say when because we couldn't predict the rate of progress in hardware and software development. But AFAIK no one even predicted MPRPGs, because the concept didn't occur to anyone, and that is a rather amazing technology. I have no doubt that an artifact will one day pass the Turing test, or for that matter that one day androids like Cmdr. Data will walk the earth.

    So I guess what I'm saying is:

    22 years? Probably not.

    Ever? Definitely yes.

    42 years? Who knows. But even if not, there will be many amazing things that that we never thought of. Perhaps computers will finally be good enough to compete in go tournaments.

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  16. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Don't sell your self short. Your readers would be "enthusiastic amateurs" much less qualified than you in the subject I intended to suggest, but think you did not understand what I was suggesting. Also you do write well and already know a great deal that is interesting in the field I was actually trying to suggest.

    I am a little surprised that you too thought I was refering to man's closest and quite hairy relatives. (I stated my expectation that the book store browser might be initially tricked into picking up you book by thinking the "Apes" in my suggested title were really the hairy ones in our common family of apes.) The "Apes" in the title are the "Naked Apes" i.e. man, the only ape highly gifted, at least in ability to comunicate, oin the relatively small family called "apes."

    There has been a great deal written (pro and con) about ability of some of the hairy apes to understand (I own a old book on that subject alone.) but I was only refering to humans as apes, which we are, if no arbitary divisions are employed to separate us for other apes.

    Your knowledge about mankind's progress as reflected in his improvements in communication, especially the written forms, is what I was suggesting you write about. (Not febble results of the "hairy apes", but the amazing capacity* of the "naked one".)
    *We both agree that it is amazing as the Turing Test passing machine is many years into the future.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 8, 2007
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Apes are a superfamily, Hominoidea. Great apes, Hominidae, and gibbons, Hylobatidae, are the two families.
    Forgive me if I got off on a tangent, I didn't really misunderstand your post. I'm just so excited about the ongoing research into the language abilities of the other hominoid apes. Just yesterday I stumbled across an account of two bonobos who had learned to understand a vocabulary of 3,000 printed words on a computer screen and could use the keyboard to manipulate them into sentences using proper, if primitive, English syntax.

    That means that at least four of the hominoid or "great ape" species--chimps, bonobos, at least one of the two gorillas, and humans--have language capability. I wouldn't hold out much hope for orangutans, the only non-social species in the family, who would therefore have no evolutionary drive to develop strong communication skills.

    It was easy--a "no-brainer" as it were--to assume that Homo sapiens's uniquely massive forebrain gave us the unique ability to develop language as we know it. The inescapable realization that cetaceans are also communicating at a level beyond single-phoneme epithets shook that up. When Koko saw her first zebra and signed to her keeper, "White tiger," it cinched it for me.
    Many biologists reached the conclusion that humans are apes in the 19th century, but for obvious reasons it was not widely promoted. I think today's new nomenclature is a bit of a compulsive overreaction to years of suppression of that reality, especially in the face of the Evolution Denial movement. The family of "great apes" we now call "Hominidae" was once "Pongidae," named after the oldest branch of the tree, the orangutan.

    The DNA differential between humans and the two species of chimps, and even the not-so-closely related two species of gorillas is remarkably small, and the physical manifestations are very slight. Hairlessness, the most striking of the lot, is so ephemeral as to be inconsequential. The brain case, which requires a too-short gestation period and results in the most helpless of all mammalian infants in order to make it through the birth canal, is the key to our intelligence as well as our social structure, since those infants need more than a decade of care as the brain completes its physical development. You'd think the trait people would focus on in this sex-obsessed era would be the realignment of the pelvis that gives us permanent bipedal posture... but also permits face-to-face copulation which regardless of its romantic implications is a tremendous advantage in watching for predators at a moment of reduced defensive ability. Another singular human trait is the buoyancy that permits us to swim. We also have those vestigial webs between our fingers that are one of the key bits of evidence for the Aquatic Ape Theory.

    But even if our DNA and physical characteristics were vastly different from the other apes, our relationship within the line classifies us as apes. This is in line with the recent reclassification of the cetaceans as a family (or possibly subfamily) within the order of artiodactyls--even-toed hooved mammals. Despite the lack of hooves they are descended from primitive hippopotamuses who lost the need and ability to return to land. Whales and dolphins are kin to cattle, antelope, sheep, giraffes, pigs, deer and camels.

    I appreciate your kind remarks about my writing. I am enjoying a rare and probably short opportunity to make a living at it, and a very non-technical essay I wrote was, surprisingly, published as a chapter in a very arcane technical book. Perhaps in a few years, if I ever get to retire, I'll concentrate more on it.
  18. Gustav Banned Banned

    sucking up?
    frag, you will not withstand my scrutiny.
  19. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I forget which educated non-human punched out "water bird" on the communication board upon first seeing a duck, but that did the same for me.

    I assume you have seen the news on TV that in some memory tests, which requre touching randomly located digits (0 thru 9) on a touch senstive display screen, the non-human primate is both faster and and more accurate than all the graduate students at that Japanese university trying to do the same.
    This result in the "easy version" of the test, which statically displays the digits for a few seconds, could be just better gross manual movement abilities, such as years of daily swinging thru trees etc. might be expected to produce.

    The more difficult verions displays the 10 different digits for only a small fraction of a second be fore their locations are "masked" by identical white squares. There is too little time to touch more than one, before they all disappear and only the white squares mark where the digits were. The non-human subject still quickly touch these white squares in the correct order, but humans can not remember what was where and make many mistakes or fail to even try all before the screen goes blank, just prior to the next trial.

    Persponally, I am glad to seen the egotistical humans taken down a notch.
    Even back in highschool, I delighted in advancing the argument that dogs were smarter than men who only do better on tests that humans have designd to measure intelligence. I even made an IQ test up for use on both humans and dogs. One of the questions was: Did a female or male wear these pants last week? etc. I no longer remember any other questions* / parts of the "Dog best IQ test", but most all agreed that the dogs would do better on the IQ test I had designed for their benefit.

    Perhaps that POV is natural for all us bots designed to emulate humans. Whoops!

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    *I will make another up now which exploits the fact that humans are dominated by their vision to believe many false things. Such as that in a movie the words heard are sounds originating from where they see the film image's lips moving instead of coming from approxinately 90 degrees to the right or left of that, where the wall speakers are located. No dog would be so dumb.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2007
  20. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

    Has anyone mentioned Spanish yet? I'd say it's reasonably well spelled, at least when contrasted with English and French. The letters "b" and "v" catch you though.

    To a great extent, yeah. I know, however, that "doch" and "hoch" don't rhyme. The former has the vowel sound /ɔ/, and the latter /o/. I think. And I'm still not confident with the pronunciation of "durch" and the "-ig" suffix in words like "zwanzig". I've read that "g" in that context is /ç/, but a native speaker told me it's /ɡ/ (and implicitly /k/ at the end of a word, per German pronunciation rules).
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The biggest problem in English, French and Spanish (and many other languages) is going the other way. Figuring out how to write a word. I don't need to elaborate on that in regard to English and French with their bounty of silent letters, but even in Spanish it's a problem. Is it danio or daño? Arroyo or arrollo? (In fact both spellings are used depending on whether you mean the topographical feature or the process.) Cocer, "cook" or coser, sew? Admittedly the LL/Y and C/S are the results of the leveling of Castilian pronunciation into Latin American. But that's a major reason that spelling reforms are not done in many languages: Which dialect is "standard?" You'll never come up with a system for that both Americans and Brits agree is phonetic! Chinese is the way it is because over the millennia dialects have diverged into separate languages so Mandarin wu (five) is Cantonese ng. They all read the same han zi but there's no way to render those disparate words phonetically.

    Nonetheless I agree with you in spirit and give Spanish high marks. It has done away with doubled letters and uses an accent mark when the stress is not in the standard place. If they'd replace Ñ with NI (as the Catalonians have with NY) it would go a long way.
    Hmm. There are many dialects of German but I was taught that those do indeed rhyme, with a vowel about midway between those two, somewhat like the way the Brits pronounce "call."
    The soft CH varies by dialect, from almost a SCH to almost (but not quite!) a hard CH. The ig suffix is K in some dialects, in others it is a soft CH, with the whole spectrum that comes with that. It's only G if it's followed by a grammatical suffix and then it's invariant in any dialect.

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