Sunday, February 12, 2017
  Constants and variables 62, consonants and vowels 2

BBC, noticed via Uncommon Descent: More point-missing about primate language.
In comparison to research into vowel-like primate calls, the scientists explained, the study of consonants in the evolution of language has been more difficult. But as Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, a lead author in the study, said, they are crucial "building blocks" in the evolution of language.

"Most human languages have a lot more consonants than vowels," said Prof Wich. "And if we have more building blocks, we have more combinations."

The scientists recorded and analysed 4,486 kiss-squeaks collected from 48 animals in four wild populations. With thousands of hours of listening as the apes communicated, the researchers found that the animals embedded several different bits of information in their squeaks.

The team compared this to how we might use more than one word to convey the same meaning - saying "car" but also "automobile" and "vehicle". "They seemed to make doubly sure that the message was received, so they would send the same message with different [kiss squeak combination] signals,"
Along with the usual nonsense about vowels vs consonants, there's a deeper failure of variables vs constants.

When you hear a wide variation in signals, and everything within this variation yields the same result, you should conclude that the "variation" is superficial, not an attempt to replicate or reinforce the result with an intentional pileup of complexities.

Example using cars and automobiles and vehicles: You observe several people making the same left turn at the same intersection. Some use the flasher, some don't. Some drivers have both hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, some have both hands down low, some use one hand, some use just a finger, and one quadriplegic is driving with a mouthstick. Should you conclude that these drivers are intending to reinforce the left turn message by providing a maximum redundancy of complex methods, or should you conclude that the left turn is the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS?

The author then makes the SAME error in the final sentence:

Dr Reis e Lameira added: "It's a way of making sure you don't end up in a game of Chinese whispers."

Unfamiliar idiom, clearly another name for what we normally call the game of Telephone**.

The usual linguistic image of Chinese considers the tones to be phonemic, a complex method that adds redundancy. If Chinese whispers are possible, then the tones are superficial variations (allophones), not phonemic. Since many young Chinese men skip the tones, this is highly likely. By citing Chinese whispers the author unintentionally undermines his own case AGAIN.

= = = = =

** Irrelevant footnote: Way back in fifth grade, a teacher tried to illustrate the game of Telephone. It was a snowy day and we were doing recess in the gym instead of outside. For some reason the teacher was inspired to try the Telephone thing, so she lined us up in a row and whispered a long sentence to the kid on the left. By the time the message had passed through all 36 kids, it was unchanged. Illustration failed. We were an unusually smart (and smartass) class.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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