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Profanity, speech origins, and brain wiring

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Profanity, speech origins, and brain wiring

Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Sep 20, 2005 10:01 am

Couldn't help thinking that fellow Agorists - all, save perhaps the automated censor - would find Natalie Angier's article Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore in the Science section of today's New York Times of interest....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby M. Henri Day » Sat Jan 14, 2006 1:00 pm

Despite a pronounced lack of activity on this particular thread, which malevolent spirits might wish to interpret as evidence to the contrary, I, stubborn as I am, still want to believe that some fellow Agorists share my interest in the question of language origins, and are willing to entertain speculation that relevant facts may be found by examining species other than our good friend (?) H sap sap. I therefore take the liberty of reproducing below some clues from research done on zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis), taken from Medical News Today....

Henri

PS : 竜太郎君、多謝 !

Zebra Finches Remember Songs Dad Sang - Discovery Of Memory Mechanism Provides Clues To How Humans Learn Speech
10 Jan 2006

Researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, believe they have located a place in the brain where songbirds store the memories of their parents' songs. The discovery has implications for humans, because humans and songbirds are among the few animals that learn to vocalize by imitating their caregivers.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, David Vicario and Mimi Phan of Rutgers, and Carolyn Pytte of Wesleyan University, report that songbirds store the memory of caregivers' songs in a part of the brain involved in hearing. This suggests the auditory version of the caregiver's song is stored first, and that it may serve to guide the vocal learning process. The paper is titled "Early Auditory Experience Generates Long-Lasting Memories That May Subserve Vocal Learning in Songbirds."

"There is independent evidence, notably from work done by Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington in Seattle, that something similar may underlie the acquisition of human speech by infants and, thus, be part of the mechanism that allows kids to learn any human language if they start early enough," Vicario says.

"These findings are exciting," Kuhl says of the research reported in the paper. "They provide neurobiological evidence that helps explain human infants' acquisition of speech."

Vicario, Phan and Pytte worked with zebra finches, tiny songbirds native to Australia and favored by researchers because they breed well in captivity and all year- round. There are other animals that also learn vocalizations by imitating members of their species - whales, dolphins and parrots, for instance - but they take a long time to mature, are endangered or are too difficult to work with in laboratories.

Vicario, an associate professor of psychology, and Phan, a postdoctoral associate in psychology, study sensorimotor processes involved in the acquisition and production of learned behaviors. Pytte, a postdoctoral associate in the department of biology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., studies the neurobiology of song production. The team performed the experiments reported in the paper in Vicario's lab, where he raises zebra finches, Bengalese finches and canaries.

The father contributes equally to childcare in zebra finch families and does all the singing, Vicario says. "In everyday English, 'song' and 'call' mean the same thing, but in scientific language, they're different," Vicario says. "Calls communicate information about food and predators, and males and females both use them," he says. "A song is a vocal behavior used in male-male interactions and in courtship of females, and in most songbird species, only the male sings." A young zebra finch will hear his father's song, remember and imitate it. At first, the bird's efforts are clumsy - the songbird equivalent of a baby's first babbling syllables. But eventually, the young bird manages an almost complete copy of his parent's song that includes some improvised elements.

Birdsong scientists use the word "tutor" to describe the bird whose song the young bird copies and remembers because they've found that a young songbird will form a memory of any adult's song heard during a key period in infancy. In fact, the young bird will remember and imitate the songs of songbirds from other species, provided they fall within a certain range. When offered a choice, however, between recorded songs from their own species and those of other species, the young birds pick their own species.

"If the processes of learning in young birds and human babies have formal similarities, which it now seems they do, then studying the songbird brain can tell us how this imitation trick is actually performed by cells in the brain," Vicario says. "The bird's brain provides a laboratory for studying how memories that underlie vocal learning are stored in the brain and how the stored memories are used to guide the development of vocalization."

Ken Branson
kbranson@ur.rutgers.edu
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
http://www.rutgers.edu
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby JJ » Tue Jan 24, 2006 11:28 pm

Damn, Awn-Ree! I can't believe nobody has picked up yer ball and run with it, especially since your topic title is so interesting!

But wherewith lieth profanity?

My 2 labradors would probably curse if they could--or maybe they do, and I just don't understand them.

Sugar and Patsy might be heard to grumble, "Shee-yit. Another rotten deer leg to chew on...Where is my dried dog food?"

Or maybe, "We're ready for some duck-guts, you old fart! When are we goin' huntin' again?"

My parents never used profanity around us kids until just before I left home. Neither whistled nor spoken. Hmmm, wish my kids could say the same for me...never mind ..

So how do you 'google' a (partial) quote? I remember a sign when I was a kid, and it said something like, "...and he knew not what to say, and he swore..."

In your opinion, is profanity a result of having a "challenged" vocabulary? In these parts, most folks let roll the casual stuff like, "Hell, 'at sum-bitch done a good job!" Obviously they're not cursing the man, nor his work, but simply reflecting an observation, probably even positive, in this little example. Would they do it around women and children? Probably not. Most would rather struggle for descriptive speech than "obnox" the ears of tender ones.

But on the job site, around those of us with "horny" hands (not sure what that means--saw it in a poem somewhere) when things don't fit just right, one is liable to exclaim, "Well, just copulate with my aural cavity!", or something similar.

I'm quite sure people of 'breeding' would never say such things. bother 'em. Oops--is this a family site? Feel free to edit or delete...It's just that, "Blahhhst it!" doesn't quite seem to do at the time...

You, sir, have my highest regard, and your opinion I esteem greatly. No doo-doo.

JJ
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Postby KatyBr » Wed Jan 25, 2006 12:31 am

Jack was embarrassed--never hero more, And as he knew not what to say, he swore.
The Island (canto III, st. 5)
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Postby Stargzer » Wed Jan 25, 2006 12:58 am

When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar (Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson)
Regards//Larry

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
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Postby gailr » Wed Jan 25, 2006 10:24 pm

I can't access your original article, Henri, but I think Allan Shermanwould have agreed with the premise of your thread topic. He wrote, "Even if we could successfully eradicate the word [*], erase it from all literature and memory, there would be a swarm of potential dirty words waiting to take its place. The wicked little devil who dwells inside every puritan mind cannot exist without dirty words; so, when it finds itself out of dirty words, it makes up new ones out of formerly clean words. The id operates automatically, and a new obscenity is created instantaneously. You can prove this yourself."

He also commented on the Comstock Law and other similar attempts to protect adult citizens from a fate worse than death. "In 1970 a live drama opened in a small Hollywood theater. It was called An Evening of Dirty Plays. (Actually the plays weren't; the producers and authors thought they might catch a few extra theater lovers with this title.) The Times refused to print an ad for the play, contending that the word dirty is dirty. ... the Los Angeles Times offered...a compromise solution...An Evening of Clean Plays. ... Of course, it didn't sell any rickets. In America, nobody wants to see an evening of clean plays."
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Postby KatyBr » Wed Jan 25, 2006 11:41 pm

The word dirty is suggestive, not dirty. But suggestive is bad eh?

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Postby Apoclima » Thu Jan 26, 2006 5:00 pm

For those who missed this "gem," (apparently it was only accessible for a short time at the NYT site Henri linked to) here is the article on another website:

Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore

Evidence also suggests that cursing can be an effective means of venting aggression and thereby forestalling physical violence.


My personal experience and understanding is that cursing is a effective means of causing aggression and instigating physical violence.

Indeed, chimpanzees engage in what appears to be a kind of cursing match as a means of venting aggression and avoiding a potentially dangerous physical clash.


Is there no end to this sort of anthropomorphization?

Simply venting your anger doesn't solve the problem; in fact, it will usually reinforce tired old patterns in a relationship and maintain the status quo, according to psychologist Harriet Lerner. Sometimes it helps to just vent some anger (without being abusive), but it usually guarantees that nothing will change.


Managing Anger Effectively

On the other hand, the old idea that you should simply "vent" or "let it all out" is discouraged by conflict experts, who claim that doing so is actually counterproductive, "an exercise in rehearsing the very attributions that arouse anger in the first place."


What Is Anger?

Apo
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Postby Stargzer » Thu Jan 26, 2006 7:24 pm

Apoclima wrote: . . .
Evidence also suggests that cursing can be an effective means of venting aggression and thereby forestalling physical violence.


My personal experience and understanding is that cursing is a effective means of causing aggression and instigating physical violence.


Depends.

If someone cuts you off in traffic, casting aspersions upon the other driver's parentage can ameliorate your tensions without "causing aggression and instigating physical violence" if said driver has moved on and is without earshot.



Indeed, chimpanzees engage in what appears to be a kind of cursing match as a means of venting aggression and avoiding a potentially dangerous physical clash.


Is there no end to this sort of anthropomorphization?


Even dogs usually growl and bark at each other before attacking.

Simply venting your anger doesn't solve the problem; in fact, it will usually reinforce tired old patterns in a relationship and maintain the status quo, according to psychologist Harriet Lerner. Sometimes it helps to just vent some anger (without being abusive), but it usually guarantees that nothing will change.


Managing Anger Effectively

On the other hand, the old idea that you should simply "vent" or "let it all out" is discouraged by conflict experts, who claim that doing so is actually counterproductive, "an exercise in rehearsing the very attributions that arouse anger in the first place."


What Is Anger?

Apo


Again, it depends. Venting to a waiter or a cook at a restaurant would not be my first choice at conflict resolution unless I'd already eaten or were leaving before eating.
Regards//Larry

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
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Postby gailr » Thu Jan 26, 2006 9:17 pm

Stargzer wrote:
Apoclima wrote:
Indeed, chimpanzees engage in what appears to be a kind of cursing match as a means of venting aggression and avoiding a potentially dangerous physical clash.


Is there no end to this sort of anthropomorphization?
Apo

Even dogs usually growl and bark at each other before attacking.



1. A quote within a quote within a quote, successfully quoted! Of such small triumphs are happy evenings made.

2. When pet #2 runs out of the room after being scolded--again--for doing something which he knows very well is forbidden in this house (it doesn't matter whether he understands why it is forbidden, or agrees, only that he complies!) he looks over his shoulder and emits in-trouble-context-specific mewl/growls. Is he swearing at me? I do not know. But I am completely confident that in these instances he is not expressing his respect, admiration, or gratitude for living here... He can cuss all he likes, as long as he gets his bad self down from the counter, dammit!!!

gailr :lol:
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Postby tcward » Fri Jan 27, 2006 10:39 am

I'm always curious exactly what my cat is saying as he emits a mumbled mew, hurrying out the front door when I command him to leave.

-Tim
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Postby KatyBr » Fri Jan 27, 2006 1:43 pm

he's NOT saying 'thanks', trust me.
When pet #2 runs out of the room after being scolded--again--for doing something which he knows very well is forbidden in this house (it doesn't matter whether he understands why it is forbidden, or agrees, only that he complies!) he looks over his shoulder and emits in-trouble-context-specific mewl/growls. Is he swearing at me? I do not know. But I am completely confident that in these instances he is not expressing his respect, admiration, or gratitude for living here... He can cuss all he likes, as long as he gets his bad self down from the counter, dammit!!!


animals do get embarrassed, they have very expressive tails and eyes. But the growling HAS to go. Not allowed in my home. and they Know it too. GRRRRR, only I may growl, and do. :twisted: heh heh heh.

Kt
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Postby Stargzer » Fri Jan 27, 2006 2:36 pm

Speaking of pets and their foibles, check out last Sunday's edition of For Better or for Worse. Parents everywhere will be familiar with the mother's last line. :wink:

Canada does some things right, eh? :lol:
Regards//Larry

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
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Postby Apoclima » Sun Jan 29, 2006 8:52 pm

Certainly I am not going to tell anyone that animals do not have emotions and do not express emotions, even beyond and behind the expected emotive projection of pet-owners and field biologists, what I am saying is that speech (including cursing) and the conceptual thought entailed by such is something that animals do not have.

A central issue in comparative studies of animal communication and human language concerns the attribution of mental states. One function of language is to influence the behavior of others by changing what listeners know, think, believe, or desire. By contrast, while animal vocalizations can be elicited by a wide variety of stimuli and often function to alter the behavior of listeners, there is no evidence that callers take into account their audience's mental state when producing vocalizations. Similarly, listeners' responses seem governed primarily by learned behavioral contingencies rather than any appreciation of signalers' motives or beliefs (reviewed by Cheney & Seyfarth 1996; Seyfarth & Cheney 2003).


The use of vocalizations in social interactions

The special faculties [math, art, humor, etc.] we have been discussing clearly point to the existence in man [sic] of something which he has not derived from his animal progenitors--something which we may best refer to as being of a spiritual essence or nature, capable of progressive development under favourable conditions. On the hypothesis of this spiritual nature, superadded to the animal nature of man, we are able to understand much that is otherwise mysterious or unintelligible in regard to him, especially the enormous influence of ideas, principles, and beliefs over his whole life and actions. Thus alone we can understand the constancy of the martyr, the unselfishness of the philanthropist, the devotion of the patriot, the enthusiasm of the artist, and the resolute and persevering search of the scientific worker after nature's secrets. Thus we may perceive that the love of truth, the delight in beauty, the passion for justice, and the thrill of exultation with which we hear of any act of courageous self-sacrifice, are the workings within us of a higher nature which has not been developed by means of the struggle for material existence.


Darwinism- Wallace

Apo
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Jan 29, 2006 9:05 pm

APO, I agree there is nothing to be gained by all this anthropomorphizing. Animals need to stay in their place, by golly.

:lol:

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