Monday, December 7, 2015

Group 401: Linguistics and "The Mind's Big Bang"

For this week's class, we hope to use two segments from the U.S. Public Broadcasting documentary program Nova and its series Evolution. From episode 6, "The Mind's Big Bang," we'll look at the birth of a new language among deaf children in Nicaragua. Then we'll look at how memes operate in intellectual evolution in ways that are similar to (and competing with??) genes operating in biological evolution.

If we don't finish everything this week, we'll return to this program after our midyear exam next week.

The whole program:

Our first segment, "Birth of a Language," begins at 35 minutes 43 seconds. The second part, "The Evolutionary Role of Memes," begins at 44 minutes.

Our discussion questions:
  1. Who are Maria Noname and Judy Kegel?
  2. What information about herself was Maria unable to give?
  3. The “window” for acquiring language stays open until about what age?
  4. Why did the Nicaraguan deaf children in this documentary never encounter the window for language?
  5. Instead of learning the standard sign language, what did the Nicaraguan children do?
  6. What does every language depend upon? A set of strict ... what?
  7. Richard Dawkins believes that language provided an advantage in what grand process?
  8. What does Robin Dunbar do when he is out in the field--for example in a restaurant or on a train?
  9. Dunbar and his colleagues thought that the exchange of technical information made up the major part of communication. To their surprise, 2/3 of normal human communication is actually made up of what?
  10. What will monkeys and apes never know?
  11. What does Stephen Pinker suggest might be the advantage of being the first to get a nice bit of gossip?
  12. The narrator says, "Language: the force that created modern human culture, and that today tells us...." What three things does language tell us? “Who …, how …, and where ....”
  13. Memes include, among other things, such intellectual and behavioral patterns as: (name as many as possible)
  14. As an example of “memes fighting against genes,” Blackmore mentions that, in general, the more education you have, the fewer children you have.” What might the implications be?
The Public Broadcasting Service Web site maintains a subsite dedicated to the Evolution series.

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