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Language after the apocalypse

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Clickyba
216441.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:58 pm Reply with quote

Has anybody read 'Riddley Walker' by Russel Hobbs?

Fiction, I know, but gives a fascinating idea of a probability of language 'deterioation' post apocalypse. I quote mark that because who is to say what is deterioration in a language and what is just development along a particular path. Certainly there are some lovely words in the novel which I would love to see incorporated into English.

CB

 
Asta
216444.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:05 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
* I shall avoid getting all Chomskian and suggesting that babies are born with an innate notion of language. For one thing, it only confuses the argument; for another thing I disagree.


Always glad to be in the company of another sane linguist.

Also, re: languages with no written form, no signed language currently in use has a written form. There have been some attempts to create orthographies based on phonemes, but they tend to be ridiculously complicated (http://www.signwriting.org/archive/docs1/sw0013-Salk-Institute-SW.pdf, http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Written_20Sign_20Language). Understanding of phonology in manual-modality languages is sketchy at best, but that may improve in time (or the whole issue will become pointless due to the death of all signed languages due to the spread of the cochlear implant/whatever other advances show up to eradicate deafness....)

A logographic system might work better, but purely logographic systems are unwieldy at best. Maybe phonetic-semantic compounds (like Chinese) would work. And to the best of my knowledge (two years of college level American Sign Language and one year of ASL interpreter training), a syllabic system wouldn't work well due to the huge number of possible syllables (same reason a syllabic system wouldn't work for English, apparently).

However, with the advent of easily affordable/accessible video recording/playback technologies, the need for a written form of signed languages is dwindling. And most signers (in the western world) tend to learn at least the basics of whatever spoken language is predominant in their area, so they can write using that (as a second language, of course).

...I used the dreaded Wikipedia as a refresher for my writing system terminology, by the way (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system).

 
suze
216487.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 4:43 pm Reply with quote

Good point Asta; I'll confess that - in common with many linguists - I tend not to consider sign languages as much as I ought.

It's not quite the same though, is it - since as stated, most deaf people are able to read and write in a language both spoken and written. And if I were to become deaf, I would still think "elephant" on seeing a large grey animal, not "that thing which has the sign like this".

Asta, you've studied ASL considerably (about an hour less than infinitely) more than I have. Do those who are deaf from birth think of things in precisely the way I suggest there?

 
ali
216509.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 5:38 pm Reply with quote

I can't remember much detail about this (not even enough to google it), but I have heard of a case that may have relevance. A community of escaped slaves in (I think) South America didn't have a common language and so developed a rudimentary pidgin. Children born into this community, knowing no other means of communication, developed grammatical structures for it and evolved a fully functional language (any info suze?).
If this is true, a post-apocalypse language would probably evolve in the same way.

 
Asta
216530.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:36 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
It's not quite the same though, is it - since as stated, most deaf people are able to read and write in a language both spoken and written. And if I were to become deaf, I would still think "elephant" on seeing a large grey animal, not "that thing which has the sign like this".

Asta, you've studied ASL considerably (about an hour less than infinitely) more than I have. Do those who are deaf from birth think of things in precisely the way I suggest there?


People who are born deaf tend to be very visual, for obvious reasons, so they're almost always visual thinkers as opposed to verbal/linguistic thinkers. There are also plenty of hearing people who are more visual than linguistic in their mental life, of course. An example that pops into my mind is Temple Grandin (http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.html), but I'm sure there are neurotypical people who are predominantly visual thinkers as well. Anyway, a visual thinker wouldn't think the word "elephant" upon seeing one -- they'd see their own mental image of an elephant (or a composite or series of images). Language doesn't enter into it. I'd wager many if not most deaf people do the same.

If a deaf person is, for some reason, a more linguistic thinker than visual, and their first language was signed, they'd see an elephant and think "that thing which has the sign like this". Or, more accurately, they'd do a "silent" recitation of the sign in their minds (similar to silent "speaking" of words in our minds -- which is what I assume you mean when you say you would think "elephant" when seeing an elephant).

Not having a written version of ASL is an obstacle for many people in the deaf community, however. If English is your second language, and you learned it at a state institution for the deaf (which have an abysmal track record re: quality of education), chances are your command of it is shaky at best. So if you want to communicate with someone you can't physically visit or link up to with video over the internet, you're forced to write in a "foreign" language to express yourself. This is becoming a bit less of a problem, though, at least in the States, as rudimentary Video Relay Services are now free for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals (http://www.nad.org/site/pp.asp?c=foINKQMBF&b=104291).

 
suze
216531.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:46 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Asta, that was much the way I was thinking.

ali, I don't immediately know but I'm not ignoring you - I'll try and do a bit of digging on that question tomorrow.

 
Asta
216539.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:40 pm Reply with quote

This is somewhat relevant:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050201101836.htm

"The research also supports the notion that languages can and do evolve quickly."

 
samivel
216541.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:53 pm Reply with quote

Clickyba wrote:
Has anybody read 'Riddley Walker' by Russel Hobbs?


Russell Hobbs makes kitchen appliances. The author of Riddley Walker is called Russell Hoban. And it's an excellent novel.

 
Archie
216557.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:18 am Reply with quote

ceefax wrote:
oh dear....


My point, mr sarky-pants, is that you said

ceefax wrote:
... you'll know that all the children born after the apocalypse grow up speaking in grunts with minimal words....


Which we don't know because it was a work of fiction.

 
Leonardo
216558.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:32 am Reply with quote

Didn't he contextualise it with "If any of you have seen threads [..]", though? Doesn't that mean that "all the children" to which he was referring were the children in that work? As in, "all the children in Threads"?

 
Archie
216567.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:46 am Reply with quote

Fair point, I read it differently.

(note to self - wait for drugs to start working before posting on forums).

 
dr.bob
216572.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:50 am Reply with quote

Children, particularly teenagers, these days seem to grow up speaking in grunts with minimal words.

Was there an apocalypse while I wasn't looking?

 
ceefax
216581.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 4:06 am Reply with quote

i think its obvious what i meant and archie was being Mr Sarky pants not me :-)

But ive enjoyed the discussion so far.

I think the problem in threads comes from the dire situation the survivors are in. There is no real society and just pockets of people dotted across the country. These people are ill or exhausted, suicidal etc. So we have to look at how this effects the social development of a child and therefore its speech.

Say you have managed to get a small community together a few years after the war. There wouldnt be many...if any, old people and the same goes for for the very young. The first winter along with little food or shelter would kill off these groups. So your left with children being born into a very isolated world, a very emotionally starved and mentally starved world at that. Two things which i feel are important in language development.

Time would be mainly spent trying to get crops going and rebuilding. With little time devoted to teaching apart from the manual work skills, and with very few children around anyway they miss that social aspect of learning speech after they have initially grasped the basics from there parent.

There is also a limit as to what would be relevant to the children. There is no use in knowing what an elephant is, there language would be based around what is important in the local area.

Life spans would also drop, old at 40 wouldnt be so surprising. The increase in UV in the atmosphere would increase cancer rates as well as blindness with cataracts and the lack of medicine, so the initial group of children who developed language poorly would then be teaching the new kids, and perhaps new strains of english developing such as in the middle ages (is that right? wasnt there lots of forms of english scattered around the country before a unifying language)

perhaps someone could explain telegraphic sentences here as that whats supposidly used. However later generations of children years after the war are suppose to develop more complete sentences, perhaps as society gets more structure.

 
Clickyba
216596.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 4:25 am Reply with quote

samivel wrote:
Clickyba wrote:
Has anybody read 'Riddley Walker' by Russel Hobbs?


Russell Hobbs makes kitchen appliances. The author of Riddley Walker is called Russell Hoban. And it's an excellent novel.


Well I'd just had a cup of tea sami

 
suze
216748.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:42 am Reply with quote

Asta, thanks for the link to the piece about the sign language in the Negev. I did post on that once before, when we were talking about word order. The fact of that sign language not using the same word order as Arabic does indeed suggest that the people who developed it were not familiar enough with any spoken language to be influenced by it. (Although it does use the same word order as modern Hebrew - which cannot be ignored in Israel, even in a predominantly Arab region.)

(last segment of the rather lengthy post 65106 refers)


I fear I can't at present track down the language to which ali refers. There are a number of well documented cases of groups of slaves developing a creole language of their own, but all of those with which I'm familiar were loosely based on an existing language. Slaves being transported to Africa seem to have developed creoles on board ship based on Hausa and Wolof. On arriving in America they began to add English words to these languages; this seems have to been the genesis of African American Vernacular English ("Ebonics" if you must, though I dislike the name).

These days, AAVE is probably a dialect of English rather than a creole - although there are some who argue the other way. But to me, it's case of a language developing itself out of existence - people haven't stopped speaking it, they have just stopped thinking of it as a separate language when they do so. I have been known to argue that the same happened to Chinook Jargon, which all the books say died out in the early 20th century.


Re Telegraphic sentences. That simply means sentences of the kind used in telegrams, and is common among young children - "foot hurt want mummy", that sort of thing.

 

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