More and less.

I bring to your attention, once again, the Transition, as currently featured in the Oven Glove news.  While I have my doubts as to just how roadworthy this plane would be in ‘bad weather’, particularly in icy or stormy conditions, it’s still awesome.

Also awesome is an article that recently came to my attention about the Pirahã.  Of course you say it like pee-da-HAN, but who really looks at the letters in a word, anyway?  Certainly not THESE Amazonians.  Considering that they don’t have letters.  Or art.  Or MATH (that one’s for you, Alex).  From my brief days of teaching language, I know how important it is to be able to work from shared concepts – concrete nouns, pantomimed action verbs, visible adjectives.  But what if these concepts are not shared, or cannot be communicated?  What then?  What happens when  a culture with words for ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘many’ cannot conceive of or count to three, even in a language different from the native one? How do you communicate?

There is some debate as to whether the term for our number one is really a number at all – it could simply mean ‘a small amount’ or ‘few’, as opposed to the words for ‘some’ (two) or ‘many’.  The only thing that is real is the concrete, the immediate, the observable.  There is no recursion in sentences, no abstraction in terms, no hypothesizing or future planning.  What decoration or art there might be is solely for immediate purposes – the model of a plane just seen carelessly tossed away once the actual plane has left, or some other instant expression of an event or action.  Nothing is meant to last.  What is emotion, in this context?  Is it too abstract, or something transitory that is very real in the moment?  In a language where stress and tone matters more than syllable, vowel, or consonant, where singing possibly says more than saying, what does music mean?

Finally, in this article on linguistics and other wonders of the world, I was laughing at a Boston reference – Noam Chomsky as interviewed by Spare Change news.  Next time you see one of those guys asking for a dollar, just think about it.  You never know what gems might be on the inside.

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