In this video I do a short recap of the previous parts of this series, I explain the reasons for why I started sharing this line of research with the study of sounds, and what my general plan is for future videos. Let’s be like Sherlock Holmes, and find secrets in the tiniest molecules of language!
Interviews mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4AiG…
The full Sounds and Meaning series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bkbw3…
Hello and welcome to language with Chu. It’s been a while. Since I made the series on sounds, I was at two interviews, so check them out on my channel, for expanding on the topics that I covered then. But on this video I wanted to do a bit of a recap of what I’ve done so far, tell you why I started off with sounds, and where I’m going next. Hopefully to pique your curiosity even more.
So as a recap for the previous series:
On part one we covered the idea that sounds could be like molecules, the tiniest components of language in more ways than it is usually understood.
Then in part two, we saw how one sound like /b/ or /p/ could contain a whole range of meaning that we’re usually not aware of, or not conscious of, but that is there, kind of lurking in the background and giving color and meaning to proper words.
On part three, we explored that even more with the idea that even particles, parts of words, syllables, could also do that. Specifically, we did it for names of places (toponyms), but not only.
Then, on part 4, we saw how parallels between sounds and languages across the board, not even amongst families of languages, could tell us something about a hidden history and stories that people told each other throughout the years, the way our ancestors understood the world in the past.
And finally, on part 5, I introduced the idea that shapes, whether it’s in sounds or in written symbols, could also express some meaning. All of those to me are just are clues about something bigger, something bigger that we’re usually not aware of, and something hidden, part of the big mystery of language. One of the biggest mysteries for science is considered to be the origin of language and our capacity for language, because we differ so much from animals in that respect, that it the jump is not understood. And we’re not yet at the point where we can fully understand why it came to be, why we use it, how we use it, etc.
But then you’ll say, “Well, why did you start with sounds?” Why not grammars, why not types of languages, why not the origin of language?
Well, the first reason is that sounds have always been my passion. I love sounds, whether I’m learning a foreign language or not. So it was just a matter of preference, but also because it’s one example of how something so obvious, that we use all the time, is often neglected, in Linguistics in this case. Many mysteries in life may be staring us in the face, but we just don’t see them because we take them for granted, like the air we breathe. So sounds to me are a little bit like that, and the poor sounds are really neglected in Linguistics, and I’m tired of it!
Reason number three for choosing sounds was that sometimes, if you focus on sounds, you’ll see parallels among languages that usually shouldn’t be there or are not considered important. For example, Spanish belongs to a branch of the Indo-European languages, Greek to another. And then you have Basque which is an isolate, it doesn’t belong to any family. Yet, their sound systems across the board are very, very similar. So the sound system in Basque is more similar to Spanish and Greek than, say, French and Spanish.
And the fourth and most important reason, I think, is that when you look at sounds and explore the meaning behind these tiniest pieces of language, you find that there’s a big parallel with biology. Instead of imagining, like at the time of Darwin, that the cell was a blob, a jello, and that somehow from that came evolution, etc., biologists now know exactly the content of a cell. Well, what that gives us (and in language too, I believe) is a clue about something intelligent, a design, if you want. Something very complex (I don’t know what it is) that tells us that random mutations and materialism as it’s understood nowadays don’t cut it, don’t explain the whole thing.
So that brings me to why before returning to sounds, we need to explore other mysteries: the mystery of why and how the language capacity originated, why we are able to produce language, and how that came to be. The mysteries of how why languages differ amongst each other, why languages are so complex too. The capacity for language is complex, and languages themselves are. So you’re looking at a whole web of complexity that is very, very hard to simplify into something banal, or some kind of random mutation here and there. We’ll talk about that.
We also have to cover other mysteries: the mysteries of grammars and how they work, and why they are different. The mystery of language acquisition, how we acquire language, whether it’s our mother tongue or a second tongue. The difference in typology of languages, these families. And the problem with modern Linguistics and materialism, and seeing what we can keep from that, and what we should expand on because some things are really not explained with materialism.
That doesn’t mean that we need to turn into religion all of a sudden. We need to find out the boundaries of what is really material and what may be immaterial, and which we need to explain somehow else. Language includes everything that is physical: the brain, our vocal apparatus… But it also includes our minds, our thoughts, and all that is intangible.
So we need to find the balance between that, which brings me to the next topic that we need to cover: how language affects thought and culture, and vice versa. Is it because of our culture and our thoughts that we speak in a certain way, or does the way we speak affect, alter, our culture? That’s a very old debate and nobody has the solution. There are two camps. So I’ll talk a bit about that.
And finally, I want to bring up the idea that we won’t get unstuck unless we use a multidisciplinary approach. We need several disciplines to explain, to start explaining, languages and language. You need sociology, psychology, neurology, archaeology, biology, information theory… you need a lot of disciplines to make sense of the complexity of language. And usually Linguists (in the same way as other scientists depending on their discipline do it) get stuck into their field, and they don’t look at anything else. So we’ll try to do that, and I think that we’ll find out that even though sounds are possibly one of those types of molecules, there are others in language. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the complexity we have in sign languages, for example.
So I think we’re going to find out that there are many tiny molecules, and all of them make up for the complexity of language. And ultimately, my hope is that in the same way that many of you wrote to me saying how the sounds series had piqued their curiosity and made them want to learn more about sounds, we will all become a bit like Sherlock Holmes. Because ultimately, the mysteries hide in the details. Sherlock Holmes or any detective story, really, is based on the fact that the clues about a mystery are always hidden in plain sight, but in the details. So that’s kind of what we’re doing.
And as a long-term goal, why not use Linguistics as a step towards understanding who we are, why we’re here, what we’re here for? Those are all philosophical questions, if you wish, that have a lot to do with language, I think. Usually philosophers will just reflect on that or throw in ideas, but language, I think, is a big, big component. And yeah, I just find it fascinating, and I think that you will too, whether you’re interested in language because you are, or because you use language. And who doesn’t use language, right?
So stay tuned, and let’s hope that we can discover…we can walk through it like in a labyrinth. Don’t be surprised if I go in a tangent sometimes. It may seem to you that I’m talking about language trivia or a language mystery that doesn’t have to do much with sounds. But hopefully in the end, or globally, it will make sense if you keep these goals in mind. Thank you for watching!”