Fast-talking furriners

john moschittaFrom Ed Yong’s “Not Exactly Rocket Science,” a report on a recent study of turn-taking conventions among speakers of various languages.  The surprising thing is how little variation there seems to be from culture to culture.  It seems that every language group prizes speed of communication; nowhere is it the norm to pause noticeably between speakers.   While I’m posting about Ed Yong’s coverage of linguistics, I should note that a few days ago he posted this piece about a study that seems to show that five-month old babies can recognize their native languages when they hear unfamiliar speakers use them.


  1. cymast

     /  June 20, 2009

    “nowhere is it the norm to pause noticeably between speakers”

    That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

  2. acilius

     /  June 22, 2009

    The other post is interesting too- it seems to suggest that people are born ready to distinguish one language from another. If you are a Rationalist like Plato or Rene Descartes or Noam Chomsky and you believe that people are born with ideas hardwired into their brains and that environmental cues activate those ideas, then you would have to say that the innate idea of “language” involves the idea of a number of distinct languages. Of course, not everyone does believe in innate ideas, I for one don’t. But it would be very interesting to see what implications this finding had for the theory of innate ideas, whether you accept the theory or not.

  3. cymast

     /  June 22, 2009

    Innate ideas don’t seem so far-fetched to me. Especially if you believe in reincarnation.

  4. acilius

     /  June 22, 2009

    The theory of innate ideas is certainly not far-fetched, though it may not be true. I’m sure Rationalism will come back into fashion some day.

  5. cymast

     /  June 22, 2009

    Maybe, but I think for as long as there are people- which may not be for all that much longer- there will be anti-rationalism. For example, belief in the supernatural isn’t making an exit, contrary to the liberal academic trend.

  6. acilius

     /  June 22, 2009

    Oh, I mean Rationalism, not rationalism. That is to say, I mean the philosophical tradition built on the idea that the most important way to learn and test truth is by logical analysis, not a general tendency to believe that things make sense. The theory of innate ideas is part of the legacy bequeathed to us by the former. It’s an important distinction- philosophers contrast Rationalism with Empiricism, the idea that the most important way to learn and test truth is by observation and experience. Lower-case “r” rationalism seems closer to Empiricism than to its philosophical namesake.

  7. cymast

     /  June 22, 2009

    Logical analysis versus observation and experience. What a tough choice. I’ll stick with picking and choosing. And thanks for your clarification.

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