Why Do We Talk
November 24, 2010 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Watch a language evolve in a single afternoon in part 6 of BBC Horizon's fascinating documentary, "Why Do We Talk." (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)
posted by Avenger50 (11 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
"One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?

At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical."

Personally I think the second theory has more merit than Ford gave it credit for.
posted by jedicus at 10:55 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

In a similar vein, jedicus, Vonnegut wrote: "People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they'll have good voice boxes in case there's ever anything really meaningful to say."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:58 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

jedicus: " Personally I think the second theory has more merit than Ford gave it credit for."

The dude thought cars were the dominant lifeform on the planet. If he was right, it was likely due to luck more than anything else.
posted by Plutor at 11:03 AM on November 24, 2010

1) This thread needs a cleanup.
2) This experiment is awesome.
posted by DU at 11:15 AM on November 24, 2010

Here's a page about the experiment featured in episode 6.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2010

That experiment reminds me of the way that I write comments. I started with random bunches of words, and then I tweak them slightly depending on how many favorites I get. Over time, my comments improve to the point where they seem like completely legitimate English with good spelling and grammar. It's kind of an amazing candelabra.
posted by Plutor at 11:39 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

The first run of that experiment had to be discarded when a German volunteer sorted all the fruit into three genders.
posted by theodolite at 11:56 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. Looks fascinating.
posted by zarq at 12:19 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Language Log discussion of the BBC News piece, with a response from Simon Kirby.
posted by languagehat at 3:04 PM on November 24, 2010

Thanks for posting this. Linguistics will never cease to be fascinating for me.

Just yesterday we were talking about how my son's first word was "oh-wow-wo." He was experimenting and imitating the phonemes, like in this video. The child begins with ga ga, wa wa, wa yo, wa da, and ends up with "water." In my child's morphology, oh-wow-wo finally settled on "flower."

Later, his phonemes were often misplaced, substituted, out of sequence, or slurred: automagnet for automatic, hostipole for hospital, and-- the funniest one-- furgkin market for farmer's market. I'm not sure how or why farmer's market became fukkin market to him, but it always made me grin and giggle when he said it like that. Now he is older and his pronunciations are standard.

"Let's go to the fukkin market."

aside: I wonder how long it will be before Nintendo makes games controlled by one of those electrode array hats.
posted by at the crossroads at 4:35 PM on November 24, 2010

"They say things like 'How are you?' and 'Have a nice day' and 'What do you think of this weather, then?' What these sounds mean is: I am alive and so are you." -- Terry Pratchett

I'm surprised to hear Noam Chomsky's voice for the first time; it's warm and Midwestern-y, practically presidential. I expected something nattering and nasal, although it would probably take a thesis on American history to tell you why.

I was moved by poor Steve's injury. I keenly hope never to have anything happen to me or my loved ones that would attract the interest of neuroscientists.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:45 PM on November 24, 2010

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