LINGUIST List 12.454

Mon Feb 19 2001

Disc: Parallelism Between Lang and Genome

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Moonhawk, Re: 12.449, Disc: Parallelism Between Lang and Genome

Message 1: Re: 12.449, Disc: Parallelism Between Lang and Genome

Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 11:07:56 -0800
From: Moonhawk <>
Subject: Re: 12.449, Disc: Parallelism Between Lang and Genome

> Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 11:33:14 -0600
> From: Jerry Packard <>
> Subject: Re: 12.379, Disc: New: Parallelism Between Lang & Genome
> It is very difficult for me to believe that this sort of double
> articulation ('sequential arrangement of discrete subunits...which by
> themselves are devoid of inherent meaning but serve to build minimal units
> endowed with their own, intrinsic meaning') occurs only in the genetic and
> linguistic codes. A glance at nature reveals that double articulation
> occurs everywhere we look---so for example, in many reductionist systems it
> would appear to be the case that the intrinsic properties of lower-order
> building blocks of higher-order elements do not end up being directly
> represented at the higher-order level.

Exactly. Is 'double articulation' -- or form/meaning complementarity by any
other name -- a process characteristic of all systems, of the entire Great
Mystery we call the universe and reality, or at the very least of all
systems of existence on Earth? Or just of our speech?

"Speech is the best show man puts on. It is his own 'act' on the stage of
evolution, in which he comes before the cosmic backdrop and really 'does his
stuff.' But we suspect the watching Gods perceive that the order in which
his amazing set of tricks builds up to a great climax has been stolen --
from the universe!" (Whorf, p. 249)

Whorf and I weigh in on Jerry's side here. What we call an animate worldview
(or 'langscape' of our 'reality') accepts this premise comfortably -- the
entire all-that-is as a living organism just like us and our speech,
*existing* by the vibration of form/function or form/meaning
complementarity. This langscape is present not only in indigenous
language/cultures around the Earth, but also in the most current physics
understandings of the classical/quantum complementarity (this is to be
expected since physics and linguistics share a common base of 20th-C.
structuralism) and in neurologist Don Watson's Theory of Enformed Systems
(<>;), some of many.

Yet here we sit in disbelief that this could be so -- as long as we continue
to view the issue while reasoning through the 'thinking for speaking' lens
provided by English: a language whose excellence resides in easily
transforming dynamic eventing, relationshipping and processing into static
snapshots -- NPs, obligatory in our formal sentences.

And, besides, we have no clear "animate-it" category when we want to report
seeing a single life-form (a bug, whale, tree, tiger, etc.) and then use a
pronoun. But universe, cosmos, and reality are also customarily assigned
this pronoun, as are the solar system, sun, moon, Our Birthplace Earth and
other planets -- in fact, the general rule is that everything is inanimate
(or 'minus respect') unless proven innocent by careful examination of sexual
characteristics, thence 'he' or 'she'; according to the lens of our
inanimate langscape, any life-form by itself is inanimate unless assigned
sexual gender. And we tacitly assume that Nature, in Her infinite, ancient
wisdom, abides by the same grammatical decision our linguistic ancestors
made a thousand years ago in order to speak more fluently with the Norse
settlers -- and drop calling *just everything* masculine, feminine or neuter
and make it "show itself" in order to get the respect accorded by the
animate category. Thus our language's thinking-for-speaking is currently
complicit in it-ting to death Mother Earth, her Beings, and the Cosmos.

In a basically inanimate worldview, that both genomes and human language
could share dynamic, organismic, intelligent ordering doesn't compute --
just as the notion of, say, songs being animate. But as Whorf stated. "A
change in language can transform our appreciation of the cosmos." My own
CIIS doctoral students, Nancy Maryboy and David Begay, wrote a dissertation
late last decade (with a Navajo title; see Ann Arbor Reprints) demonstrating
a certain overall process of the universe revealed by their language and
cultural teachings.

The current unproven assumption underlying our reasoning in English is that
the entire universe and nearly everything in it is inanimate. It is
extremely difficult -- yet incredibly rewarding -- to swim against this
linguistic tide and substitute instead the equally unproven assumption that
everything is alive unless temporarily inert: a process langscape, rather
than one of habitual thingifying, paying more attention to dancing rather
than to the dancers. Can our 'thinking for speaking' be blinding us to a
larger animate reality, or were our linguistic ancestors right after all?

warm regards, moonhawk
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