Sunday’s Big Idea
Today's Big Idea: Communication and the Mind
Does language make us human? How uniquely human is language?
Steven Pinker is fascinated by the study of human nature, and it's language (namely, regular and irregular verbs) that first gave him an entrée into the obscure workings of the human mind. Language, he says, is what distinguishes us from mice or birds. Like Noam Chomsky, Pinker believes that it's a window into human nature, a "good candidate for something that is innately and uniquely human."
As founder and director of the Wild Dolphin Project, Denise Herzing, on the other hand, has spent her professional life trying to understand dolphin communication. Every day, she documents the daily exchanges of a community of free-ranging Spotted dolphins off the coast of the Bahamas in hopes of finding a dolphin version of the Rosetta Stone. "Are there universals to communication that we might find looking at a species outside ourselves?" she asks.
In a recent interview, translator David Bellos told Big Think that it all comes down to semantics. The answer depends on exactly how we define "language," and who's doing the talking. In this new video, he explains exactly what he believes constitutes language, and why it matters.