Arguably, we are all masters of our first language(s). In many domains, improvisation is the showcase of ultimate mastery, no? Can we go the other way around and say that when using language we are constantly improvising? The author of this blog post certainly found this idea far-fetched at first. Here, we try to unpack the commonalities between musical improvisation and every-day speaking. Read along and learn what Johann Sebastian Bach, Anthony Hopkins, and Michael Jordan have in common.
Can language make us see?
Imagine an elephant. One of those African bush elephants. Large ears covering its shoulders; a powerful trunk falling to the ground; a pair of magnificent ivory tusks.
Were you able to see it? If so, it is tempting to jump to a conclusion: Yes, language makes us see things we are not currently perceiving through our eyes. But does your mental picture of an elephant have anything to do with real vision? Here’s the answer.
At first glance, the question in the title might seem like a paradox. If the answer is ‘yes’, and impossible languages do exist, then those languages aren’t impossible at all. However, the title aims to address a different question: is there a limit to the variety of languages that there could be? In other words, can we think of a language that will never be spoken by humans? Read more
We are used to thinking that what we see accurately represents our environment, give or take an occasional lapse of attention. We talk about eyes as being windows to the outside world, allowing us to ‘see reality’. However, research has recently shown that the whole picture is not quite so simple. As it turns out, the way we see our surroundings is very much shaped by our knowledge, experience, and expectations. And one of the things that seems to have the biggest impact on our perception is actually our language.
Whether we like it or not everyday speech is filled with unwanted “ers” and “ums”, hesitations and pauses. We can often feel negatively about these interruptions to the smooth flow of speech and there are whole web articles giving tips on how to avoid saying “um”. You might think that such additions to speech make it more difficult to follow what the speaker is trying to say. However, surprising research has shown that we should perhaps change the way we think about these “ers” and “ums”. Read more
All animals communicate: Birds sing, insects release chemicals, monkeys produce alarm calls, honeybees dance, dolphins whistles, etc. in order to share information with the other members of their species. We, humans, use language, which is distinct and unique from all other ways of communication in that we manage to express unlimited number of thoughts using unlimited number of sentences. Our ability to express specificity in meaning and flexibility to use language in novel situations are the hallmarks of our communication. Read on