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Cardboard boxes.
Toddler-size electric trains.
Holiday ornaments.
Bounce houses.
Tray tables.
What do all of these things have in common,
aside from the fact they're photos that I took in the last three months,
and therefore, own the copyright to?
They're all inventions
that were created with the benefit of language.
None of these things would have existed without language.
Imagine creating any one of those things
or, like, building an entire building like this,
without being able to use language
or without benefiting from any knowledge that was got by the use of language.
Basically, language is the most important thing
in the entire world.
All of our civilization rests upon it.
And those who devote their lives to studying it --
both how language emerged, how human languages differ,
how they differ from animal communication systems --
are linguists.
Formal linguistics is a relatively young field, more or less.
And it's uncovered a lot of really important stuff.
Like, for example, that human communication systems
differ crucially from animal communication systems,
that all languages are equally expressive,
even if they do it in different ways.
And yet, despite this,
there are a lot of people who just love to pop off about language
like they have an equal understanding of it as a linguist,
because, of course, they speak a language.
And if you speak a language, that means you have just as much right
to talk about its function as anybody else.
Imagine if you were talking to a surgeon,
and you say, "Listen, buddy.
I've had a heart for, like, 40 years now.
I think I know a thing or two about aortic valve replacements.
I think my opinion is just as valid as yours."
And yet, that's exactly what happens.
This is Neil deGrasse Tyson, saying that in the film "Arrival,"
he would have brought a cryptographer --
somebody who can unscramble a message in a language they already know --
rather than a linguist,
to communicate with the aliens,
because what would a linguist --
why would that be useful in talking to somebody
speaking a language we don't even know?
Though, of course, the "Arrival" film is not off the hook.
I mean, come on -- listen, film. Hey, buddy:
there are aliens that come down to our planet in gigantic ships,
and they want to do nothing except for communicate with us,
and you hire one linguist?
What's the US government on a budget or something?
A lot of these things can be chalked up to misunderstandings,
both about what language is and about the formal study of language,
about linguistics.
And I think there's something that underlies a lot of these misunderstandings
that can be summed up by this delightful article in "Forbes,"
about why high school students shouldn't learn foreign languages.
I'm going to pull out some quotes from this,
and I want you to see if you can figure out
what underlies some of these opinions and ideas.
"Americans rarely read the classics, even in translation."
So in other words, why bother learning a foreign language
when they're not even going to read the classic in the original anyway?
What's the point?
"Studying foreign languages in school is a waste of time,
compared to other things that you could be doing in school."
"Europe has a lot of language groups clustered in a relatively small space."
So for Americans, ah, what's the point of learning another language?
You're not really going to get a lot of bang for your buck out of that.
This is my favorite,
"A student in Birmingham would have to travel
about a thousand miles to get to the Mexican border,
and even then, there would be enough people who speak English to get around."
In other words, if you can kind of wave your arms around,
and you can get to where you're going,
then there's really no point in learning another language anyway.
What underlies a lot of these attitudes is the conceptual metaphor,
language is a tool.
And there's something that rings very true about this metaphor.
Language is kind of a tool
in that, if you know the local language, you can do more than if you didn't.
But the implication is that language is only a tool,
and this is absolutely false.
If language was a tool, it would honestly be a pretty poor tool.
And we would have abandoned it long ago for something that was a lot better.
Think about just any sentence.
Here's a sentence that I'm sure I've said in my life: "Yesterday I saw Kyn."
I have a friend named Kyn.
And when I say this sentence, "Yesterday I saw Kyn,"
do you think it's really the case
that everything in my mind is now implanted in your mind
via this sentence?
Hardly, because there's a lot of other stuff going on.
Like, when I say "yesterday,"
I might think what the weather was like yesterday because I was there.
And if I'm remembering,
I'll probably remember there was something I forgot to mail, which I did.
This was a preplanned joke, but I really did forget to mail something.
And so that means I'm going to have to do it Monday,
because that's when I'm going to get back home.
And of course, when I think of Monday,
I'll think of "Manic Monday" by the Bangles. It's a good song.
And when I say the word "saw," I think of this phrase:
"'I see!' said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw."
I always do.
Anytime I hear the word "saw" or say it, I always think of that,
because my grandfather always used to say it,
so it makes me think of my grandfather.
And we're back to "Manic Monday" again, for some reason.
And with Kyn, when I'm saying something like, "Yesterday I saw Kyn,"
I'll think of the circumstances under which I saw him.
And this happened to be that day. Here he is with my cat.
And of course, if I'm thinking of Kyn,
I'll think he's going to Long Beach State right now,
and I'll remember that my good friend John and my mother
both graduated from Long Beach State,
my cousin Katie is going to Long Beach State right now.
And it's "Manic Monday" again.
But this is just a fraction of what's going on in your head
at any given time while you are speaking.
And all we have to represent the entire mess
that is going on in our head, is this.
I mean, that's all we got.
Is it any wonder that our system is so poor?
So imagine, if I can give you an analogy,
imagine if you wanted to know what is it like to eat a cake,
if instead of just eating the cake,
you instead had to ingest the ingredients of a cake,
one by one,
along with instructions
about how these ingredients can be combined to form a cake.
You had to eat the instructions, too.
If that was how we had to experience cake,
we would never eat cake.
And yet, language is the only way -- the only way --
that we can figure out what is going on here, in our minds.
This is our interiority,
the thing that makes us human,
the thing that makes us different from other animals,
is all inside here somewhere,
and all we have to do to represent it is our own languages.
A language is our best way of showing what's going on in our head.
Imagine if I wanted to ask a big question, like:
"What is the nature of human thought and emotion?"
What you'd want to do
is you'd want to examine as many different languages
as possible.
One isn't just going to do it.
To give you an example,
here's a picture I took of little Roman,
that I took with a 12-megapixel camera.
Now, here's that same picture with a lot fewer pixels.
Obviously, neither of these pictures is a real cat.
But one gives you a lot better sense of what a cat is than the other.
Language is not merely a tool.
It is our legacy,
it's our way of conveying what it means to be human.
And of course, by "our" legacy, I mean all humans everywhere.
And losing even one language makes that picture a lot less clear.
So as a job for the past 10 years
and also as recreation, just for fun,
I create languages.
These are called "conlangs,"
short for "constructed languages."
Now, presenting these facts back to back,
that we're losing languages on our planet
and that I create brand-new languages,
you might think that there's some nonsuperficial connection
between these two.
In fact, a lot of people have drawn a line between those dots.
This is a guy who got all bent out of shape
that there was a conlang in James Cameron's "Avatar."
He says,
"But in the three years it took James Cameron
to get Avatar to the screen, a language died."
Probably a lot more than that, actually.
"Na'vi, alas, won't fill the hole where it used to be ..."
A truly profound and poignant statement --
if you don't think about it at all.
But when I was here at Cal,
I completed two majors.
One of them was linguistics, but the other one was English.
And of course, the English major, the study of English,
is not actually the study of the English language, as we know,
it's the study of literature.
Literature is just a wonderful thing,
because basically, literature, more broadly, is kind of like art;
it falls under the rubric of art.
And what we do with literature,
authors create new, entire beings and histories.
And it's interesting to us to see
what kind of depth and emotion and just unique spirit
authors can invest into these fictional beings.
So much so, that, I mean -- take a look at this.
There's an entire series of books
that are written about fictional characters.
Like, the entire book is just about one fictional, fake human being.
There's an entire book on George F. Babbitt
from Sinclair Lewis's "Babbitt,"
and I guarantee you, that book is longer than "Babbitt,"
which is a short book.
Does anybody even remember that one?
It's pretty good, I actually think it's better than "Main Street."
That's my hot take.
So we've never questioned the fact that literature is interesting.
But despite the fact,
not even linguists are actually interested in what created languages can tell us
about the depth of the human spirit just as an artistic endeavor.
I'll give you a nice little example here.
There was an article written about me
in the California alumni magazine a while back.
And when they wrote this article,
they wanted to get somebody from the opposing side,
which, in hindsight, seems like a weird thing to do.
You're just talking about a person,
and you want to get somebody from the opposing side of that person.
Essentially, this is just a puff piece, but whatever.
So, they happened to get
one of the most brilliant linguists of our time,
George Lakoff, who's a linguist here at Berkeley.
And his work has basically forever changed the fields of linguistics
and cognitive science.
And when asked about my work and about language creation in general,
he said, "But there's a lot of things to be done in the study of language.
You should spend the time on something real."
"Something real." Does this remind you of anything?
To use the very framework that he himself invented,
let me refer back to this conceptual metaphor:
language is a tool.
And he appears to be laboring under this conceptual metaphor;
that is, language is useful when it can be used for communication.
Language is useless when it can't be used for communication.
It might make you wonder: What do we do with dead languages?
But anyway.
So, because of this idea,
it might seem like the very height of absurdity
to have a Duolingo course on the High Valyrian language
that I created for HBO's "Game of Thrones."
You might wonder what, exactly, are 740,000 people learning?
Well, let's take a look at it.
What are they learning?
What could they possibly be learning?
Well, bearing in mind that the other language for this --
it's for people that speak English --
English speakers are learning quite a bit.
Here's a sentence that they will probably never use for communication
in their entire lives:
"Vala ābre urnes."
"The man sees the woman."
The little middle line is the gloss,
so it's word for word, that's what it says.
And they're actually learning some very fascinating things,
especially if they're English speakers.
They're learning that a verb can come at the very end of a sentence.
Doesn't really do that in English when you have two arguments.
They're learning that sometimes
a language doesn't have an equivalent for the word "the" -- it's totally absent.
That's something language can do.
They're learning that a long vowel can actually be longer in duration,
as opposed to different in quality,
which is what our long vowels do; they're actually the same length.
They're learning that there are these little inflections.
Hmm? Hmm?
There are inflections called "cases" on the end of nouns --
that tell you who does what to whom in a sentence.
Even if you leave the order of the words the same
and switch the endings,
it changes who does what to whom.
What they're learning is that languages do things, the same things, differently.
And that learning languages can be fun.
What they're learning is respect for Language: capital "L" Language.
And given the fact that 88 percent of Americans only speak English at home,
I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
You know why languages die on our planet?
It's not because government imposes one language on a smaller group,
or because an entire group of speakers is wiped out.
That certainly has happened in the past, and it's happening now,
but it's not the main reason.
The main reason is that a child is born to a family
that speaks a language that is not widely spoken in their community,
and that child doesn't learn it.
Because that language is not valued in their community.
Because the language isn't useful.
Because the child can't go and get a job if they speak that language.
Because if language is just a tool,
then learning their native language
is about as useful as learning High Valyrian,
so why bother?
Now ...
Maybe language study isn't going to lead to a lot more linguistic fluency.
But maybe that's not such a big deal.
Maybe if more people are studying more languages,
it will lead to more linguistic tolerance
and less linguistic imperialism.
Maybe if we actually respect language for what it is --
literally, the greatest invention in the history of humankind --
then in the future,
we can celebrate endangered languages as living languages,
as opposed to museum pieces.
(High Valyrian) Kirimvose. Thank you.
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【TED】David Peterson: Why language is humanity's greatest invention (Why language is humanity's greatest invention | David Peterson)

47 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on October 26, 2019
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