WERELD & DENKEN
 
 
Uit Language in Thought and Action, door S.I. Hayakawa.

Chapter 1  Language and survival 

Cooperation

When someone shouts at you, "Look out!" and you jump just in time to avoid being hit by an automobile, you owe your escape from injury to the fundamental cooperative act by which most of the higher animals survive, namely, communication by means of noises. You did not see the car coming; nevertheless, someone did, and he made certain noises to communicate his alarm to you. In other words, although your nervous system did not record the danger, you were unharmed because another nervous system did. You had, for the time being, the advantage of someone else's nervous system in addition to your own.
    Indeed, most of the time when we are listening to the noises people make or looking at the black marks on paper that stand for such noises, we are drawing upon the experiences of others in order to make up for what we ourselves have missed. Obviously the more an individual can make use of the nervous systems of others to supplement his own, the easier it is for him to survive. And, of course, the more individuals there are in a group cooperating by making helpful noises at each other, the better it is for all-within the limits, naturally, of the group's talents for social organization. Birds and animals congregate with their own kind and make noises when they find food or become alarmed. In fact, gregariousness as an aid to survival and self-defense is forced upon animals as well as upon men by the necessity of uniting nervous systems even more than by the necessity of uniting physical strength. Societies, both animal and human, might almost be regarded as huge cooperative nervous systems.
    While animals use only a few limited cries, however, human beings use extremely complicated systems of sputtering, hissing, gurgling, clucking, cooing noises called language, with which they express and report what goes on in their nervous systems. Language is, in addition to being more complicated, immeasurably more flexible than the animal cries from which it was developed-so flexible indeed that it can be used not only to report the tremendous variety of things that go on in the human nervous system but also to report those reports. That is, when an animal yelps, he may cause a second animal to yelp in imitation or alarm; the second yelp, however, is not about the first yelp. But when a man says, "I see a river," a second man can say, "He says he sees a river" -which is a statement about a statement. About this statement-about-a-statement further statements can be made-and about these, still more. Language, in short, can be about language. This is a fundamental way in which human noisemaking systems differ from the cries of animals.


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