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Re: [ontolog-forum] Cultural variation in cognitive machinery

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 09 Apr 2010 14:31:25 -0400
Message-id: <4BBF727D.3020103@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Rich and Ali,    (01)

I agree that Pirahã is an extreme example, but many languages use
similar mechanisms to supplement the vowels and consonants:    (02)

New Yorker> Unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just
 > eight consonants and three vowels, Pirahã has one of the simplest
 > sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones,
 > stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with
 > their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle
 > conversations.    (03)

Hawaiian, for example, has a limited set of phonemes, but vowel
length and the glottal stop are significant for distinguishing
homonyms.  (Actually, the glottal stop should be considered a
consonant.)  Chinese has a very high number of homonyms when
tones are ignored, but the tones distinguish many of them.    (04)

There are other tonal languages around the world that have
associated forms that can be whistled over long distances. In
some African languages, the tones and rhythms are sufficiently
distinctive that many messages could be transmitted across long
distances by drums.  (Today, of course, they use cell phones.)    (05)

Those features of Pirahã can be considered a matter of degree.
But the most significant aspects for this thread are related
to the semantics and the culture.    (06)

AH> And what if we had to use stone? ...    (07)

We still communicate in stone on buildings and tombstones.
But stone always was and still is an insignificant part of
our communication.    (08)

AH> Now, were you [Pat H] actually suggesting that the way we
 > consider space has not changed? That the way we form, exchange,
 > communicate and shape our thought has not fundamentally changed?    (09)

Writing is an important part of culture, and it certainly affects
what we think about.  But art and diagrams preceded written language
by many millennia.  The effect of writing on our perception of space
is small compared to many other influences.    (010)

AH> Our understanding of a social network has changed....    (011)

Technology has certainly helped people maintain long-distance
relationships more easily.  There is a lot of research on the
effects of that technology, and the jury is still out.  On the
whole, the technology has increased the number of acquaintances,
but not the number of intimate relationships.  If anything,
it may have decreased the number of really close connections.    (012)

AH> I have become so used to thinking of text as remotely accessible,
 > that it is only in the absence of such access, I can appreciate
 > that it is quite remarkable what was once considered an intimately
 > physically bound artifact has been transformed into "mere"
 > electricity…    (013)

Even when I'm disconnected, my laptop contains more printable matter
than many libraries I've visited.  But those are matters of degree.    (014)

AH> Is it even conceivable we might have a televised Chomsky - Foucault
 > debate today?    (015)

Of course.  But only on the educational networks.    (016)

If you really want to find cultural differences, please read the
article about the Pirahã.  Compared to those differences, all the
others you mentioned seem to be insignificant.    (017)

John    (018)

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