| What is language anyhow? || Jan 7, 2003 |
An excellent overview of Whorf, Nelson, Vygotsky, De Saussure, Chomsky, Pinker, Jackendoff, Lenneberg, Deacon, Lieberman, Fillmore, Dowty, Schank, Katz, Gazdar, Montague, Wierzbicka, Langacker, Fauconnier, Peirce, Morris, Preto, Thom, Gregory, Dennett, Hoffmeyer, Sebeock, Fetzer
By Piero Scaruffi
What are jokes and why do we make them
The current paradigm is that language developed because it had an evolutionary function. In other words, it helped us survive. Most linguists and anthropologists believe that the \"help\" provided by language consists in exchanging information about the environment. A member of a group can warn the member of another group about an impending danger or the source of water or the route taken by a predator.
This may be true, but it hardly explains the way we use language every day. When we write an essay, we may be matter of factual, but most of the day we are not. For example, we make jokes all the time. A human being who does not make jokes and does not laugh at jokes made by others is considered a case for a psychoanalyst. Jokes are an essential part of the use of language.
Jokes are a peculiar way to use language. We use words to express something that is not true, but could be true, and the brain somehow relates to this inconsistency and… we laugh.
There must be a reason why humans make jokes. There must be a reason why we use language to make jokes.
If closer inspection, we may not be so sure that the main function of language is communicating information about the environment.
If a tiger attacks you, I will not read you an essay on survival of the fittest: I will just scream \"run!\" We don\'t need the complex, sophisticated structure of language to \"communicate\" about us and the environment. If you are starving, I may just point to the refrigerator. For most practical purposes, street signs communicate information about locations better than geography books. It is at least debatable whether we need language to communicate information about the environment which is relevant to survival. We can express most or all of that information in very simple formats, often with just one word.
On the other hand, if we want to make a joke, we need to master the whole power of the language. Every beginner in a foreign language knows that the hardest part is understanding jokes, and the second hardest is making them. Joking does require the whole complex structure of language, and, at closer inspection, it is the only feature of human life that requires it.
Jokes are probably very important for our survival. A joke is a practice: we laugh because we realize that somebody terrible would happen in that circumstance: the logic of the world would be violated, or a practical disaster would occur. The situation is \"funny\" because it has to be avoided. Being funny, helps remember that we should avoid it.
Joking may very well be an important way to learn to move in the environment without having to do it first person, without having to pay the consequences for a mistake.
In that case, it would be more than justified that our brain evolved a very sophisticated tool to make jokes: language.
Ultimately, language may have evolved to allow us to make more and more useful jokes.
[ This Message was edited by:on2003-01-07 16:02]
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