Have you ever stopped and wondered: what differentiates us from apes? Or from any number of other “lower” intelligence life forms on this earth? Of course that question can have many valid answers; we are more intelligent, we have slightly different DNA, our brains are larger, etc. But I want to present one single answer that I view as eitherĀ the main difference in and of itself, or at the very least it is a manifestation or an aggregation of all of those other differences: (drumroll)

The complexity of our language

In other words, the high degree of specificity with which we can communicate with each other. A lion may be able to express anger or issue a threat through their verbal and non-verbal communication, but humans can discuss the meaning of life, describe to a high level of detail the content of the universe, and write complex poetry.

I’ve been interested in and studying linguistics since around 2007. It all started when I travelled to England and discovered (rather cutely) that there really are different ways of speaking English and there really are different languages in the world (don’t ask how that hadn’t dawned upon me before then) — shortly thereafter I put in a lot of effort to modify my own accent (in an attempt to make it more standard — as I’m from South Africa) and to remove the quirks and grammatical mistakes unique to the South African dialect or vernacular of English.

There are many things about language that fascinate me, among them are: to what extent does language liberate, and constrain, our thoughts? What kinds of mathematical models exist to analyse language? And more, such as etymology, true eloquence, and the mapping of meanings through translation.

This section of my blog is dedicated to such discussions — and some of the material here is sourced from a book which I wrote about half of, but never completed. (entitled “reveries on linguistics”)

Shawn Powrie

Recent articles I’ve written on linguistics are shown below:

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