Questionable Motives

February 26, 2014

What’s in an accent?

Filed under: accent,geography,Language — tildeb @ 5:45 pm

Well, as realtors are fond of saying, location, location, location. I can’t embed this short video but I found it very interesting. Check it out, and then think of your own locale and how slightly different geography tends to correlate with slightly different linguistics. And if you’re ever in Newfoundland, you’ll find you can multiply this effect by a hundred!

June 3, 2010

What’s in a word?

Filed under: Language,Science — tildeb @ 10:00 am

In short: brain development. Different language, different brain development. Fascinating hypothesis

From New Scientist:

LANGUAGES are wonderfully idiosyncratic. English puts its subject before its verb. Finnish has lots of cases. Mandarin is highly tonal.

Yet despite these differences, one of the most influential ideas in the study of language is that of universal grammar. Put forward by Noam Chomsky in the 1960s, it is widely interpreted as meaning that all languages are basically the same and that the human brain is born language-ready, with an in-built program that is able to decipher the common rules underpinning any mother tongue. For five decades this idea has dominated work in linguistics, psychology and cognitive science. To understand language, it implied, you must sweep aside the dazzling diversity of languages and find the common human core.

But what if the very diversity of languages is the key to understanding human communication? This is the idea being put forward by linguists Nicholas Evans of the Australian National University in Canberra and Stephen Levinson of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

They believe that languages do not share a common set of rules. Instead, they say, their sheer variety is a defining feature of human communication – something not seen in other animals. And that’s not all. Language diversity is the “crucial fact for understanding the place of language in human cognition”, Levinson and Evans argue.

The standard modern metaphor for cognition is the “toolbox”, with humans sharing some tools with other animals while having others that are exclusive to us. For Evans and Levinson, cognition is more like “a machine tool, capable of manufacturing special tools for special jobs… like calculating, playing the piano, reading right to left, or speaking Arabic”. In this view, the brain of a child does not arrive pre-programmed with abstract linguistic rules. Instead, its initial setting is much simpler: the first job of the brain is to build a more complicated brain. This it does using any input that it gets, including language. This could mean that speakers of very different languages have quite different brains, says Levinson.

How cool is that?

April 17, 2010

Why is non belief NOT a different kind of belief?

Filed under: abuse,Argument,belief,Criticism,Irony,Language,Religion — tildeb @ 5:11 pm

A reasonable person may immediately grasp why this simple question has an obvious answer: if non belief were just another kind of belief, then the semantics of the two terms would make them identical in meaning. But the two terms are not identical in meaning: one means the opposite and negation of the other. That’s why the term ‘non’ is intentionally included.

If belief can be defined as a mental attitude of acceptance or assent toward a proposition without the full intellectual knowledge required to guarantee its truth, and faith a further acceptance without ANY intellectual knowledge required to guarantee its truth, then the opposite meaning defines non belief – a refusal to maintain faith in the absence of evidence, and an unwillingness to accept or give assent towards any proposition that has insufficient knowledge to inform its truth value.

I continue to read criticism after criticism of those who dare claim religious non belief by people of religious faith who make the gross intellectual mistake of equating non belief as just another kind of belief, that non believers are another kind of believer, that the dogma of religious non belief is similar to the dogma of religious belief. The latest shrill and strident rant from the militant religious apologist author Rory Fitzgerald over at HuffPo is a prime example of the colossal stupidity and willful abuse of language necessary to falsely equate the kind of effects of religious belief with the kind of effects of religious non belief.

To address this single question – why is non belief NOT a different kind of belief AT ALL – let us go on a short thought journey: if you are not married, is your marital status that of being married? Is an unmarried person just another kind of married person? Really? Of course not! A non married person has none of the requirements to meet the criteria of being married – most especially that of a spouse! And without that rather central feature of those who are married, the non married is NOT another kind of married person.

Yet religious apologists who mistake non belief as another kind of belief are forever equating non belief to all kinds of the most negative aspects of religious extremism… aspects like fundamentalism and evangelicalism, intolerance and bigotry. The irony seems to remain hidden from  these writers and speakers who (so willingly abuse the language if it suits their purpose)  reveal the inevitable and worst excesses of their own religious belief to represent those who reject religious belief for the very same excesses! If one rejects religious belief for the excess of fundamentalism, for example, then to be labeled as a fundamentalist by religious believers for rejecting fundamentalism is something akin to labeling religious believers as non believers for rejecting non belief. It’s nonsense, of course. And those who rely on supporting their opinion with such nonsensical linguistic mutilation deserve our undisputed disdain for their abuse. If you need to change the language to suit your opinion, then that’s a pretty reasonable indicator that it is your opinion that is lacking merit.

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