Sunday, April 17, 2011

Language of Doom?

In the course of one week-- even today, I have confronted, been confronted by and contemplated language.

A speaker this morning proposed that language – our ability to form and share symbols --is not only what makes us human but also what generates religions. He called it our bi-level reality: one level is the everyday stuff we stumble through and the ‘other reality,’ the sense that there is something beyond – perhaps above – that has significance and value.

And this afternoon, I heard two dozen people read their poetry. Some were high school students, some septuagenarians, maybe octogenarians. And the subjects were as wide ranging as their experiences, perceptions and attentions.

And earlier this week, on the left side of the New York Times’ front page, an article reported on the claim of a New Zealand biologist, Dr. Quentin D. Atkinson, that human language is at least 50,000 – perhaps 100,000 years old.

I’m going to keep studying that article and pondering its implications. What particularly blew my mind was the ending of the article in which it refers to theories of a biologist in England. That particular professor, Dr. Mark Pagel “sees language as central to human expansion across the globe.”

“Language was our secret weapon, and as soon as we got language we became a really dangerous species,” he said.

Last paragraph of the article, verbatim:

In the wake of modern human expansion, archaic human species like the Neanderthals were wiped out and large species of game, fossil evidence shows, fell into extinction on every continent shortly after the arrival of modern humans.

Read that over a couple times. Then remember, now we are everywhere. And everywhere accelerating extinctions.

Perhaps even our own.

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