The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist

In most , sounds can be re-arranged into any number of combinations. so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language. Languages, like human bodies, come in a variety of shapes—but only to a point. as people don’t sprout heads, languages tend to veer away from certain forms that might spring from an imaginative mind . For example, one core property of human languages is known as duality of patterning : meaningful linguistic units (such as words) break down into smaller meaningless units (sounds), so that the words sap , pass , and asp involve different combinations of the same sounds, even though meanings are completely unrelated. It’s not hard to that things could have been otherwise. In principle, we could have a language in which sounds relate holistically to meanings—a high-pitched yowl might mean “finger,” a guttural purr might mean “,” a yodel might mean “broccoli,” and so . But there are stark advantages to duality of patterning. Try inventing a lexicon of tens of thousands of distinct noises, all of which are easily distinguished, and you will probably find yourself wishing you could simply re-use a few snippets of sound in varying arrangements. The […]

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