Language is a Technology – Yasheng

Deacon notes human language is unique to human while adding that what other animals use to communicate is either inferior or superior.[1] Maybe I watched too many whale documentaries (#FreeTilly), one thing these documentaries all claim is that whales and dolphins have more developed brains and can communicate better than humans. 5e4dc177b5303d2a9f61dbba3f2a2f09Living in a world without air to transfer sound, whales are able to create meaning, value, and social structure within their small communities. What we read last week from Saussure entails that language, as a signifier, can never fully represent our inner thoughts, the signified. So in a way, our language is not the perfect tool for communication for the lack of full representation.

Deacon also notes that humans understand the world through matter recognition and symbolic representation – language. If our inner world is too complex to be fully represented through symbols, and pattern recognition is also limited by context. In other words, the original meaning  of a message gets lost twice, first time when the sender is encoding her or his thoughts into language, and the second time when the receiver is trying to decode the symbolic meaning of what the sender is trying to express. Accordingly, wouldn’t it be that case that language actually creates isolation between self and other, rather than engender empathy among the two?

Also consider the fact that computing is based on human language, therefore it also lacks full representation of the signified. So how can computing makes us better at establishing effective communication with others?

Well, on the other hand, I guess one thing whales cannot achieve is passing on their existence through their communication tools, or at least as far as I know it. Humans, on the other hand, are able to pass on knowledge through the language we speak. In a way, what we use to communicate on a daily basis is part of the collective human experience. Donald claims that individuals become more powerful by connecting to their “culture network”.[2] From all the evidence presented by Wong, it is clear to see that many early human cultures evolve exponentially thanks to the advancement of their culture network. Different cultures create different traditions, contrary to the West, many Asian languages encourage group mentality and indirectness. The Eastern speech is delicate and I remember that is one of reasons Japanese people don’t really get sarcasm (This is not a joke).

Another fun fact about Eastern language, Chinese in this case, I want to bring up comes from a psychological research done by my previous professor. The research shows that,

Chinese speakers had stronger connections leading from an area of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus – which has been identified as a “semantic hub” critical in supporting language – to both Broca’s and Wernicke’s area. This increased connectivity is attributed to the enhanced mapping of sound and meaning going on in people who speak tonal languages.

The second difference showed activation in an area of the brain’s right hemisphere, but only among the Chinese speakers. This brain area, the right superior temporal pole, has been implicated in Chinese tones before but – perhaps more importantly – has until now been considered completely separate from the classic language network in the left hemisphere.[3]

This makes me wonder if there is a technology that builds Eastern language processes, would it be something different than what we have today.

[1] Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

[2] Merlin Donald, “Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain,” from Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition, ed. Oscar Vilarroya, et al. Amsterdam: Rodophi, 2007.

[3] Taylor, Larry. “If You Speak Mandarin, Your Brain Is Different.” The Conversation. Accessed September 11, 2016.