Ideas that add up #81

There is no form of language in the world that is ever spoken aloud without accompanying hand movements. Indeed, the greater the effort of concentration on live speech, the more the speaker needs to move his or her hands. Try watching the conference interpreters behind their glass screens in Luxembourg or Geneva. Although absolutely nobody is supposed to be looking at them, all of them — whether they are speaking German, Estonian, Arabic or Dutch — gesticulate wildly, simply in order to keep the flow of speech up to speed. Hand movement is a profound, unconscious, inseparable part of natural speech.

…Conversely, delicate finger-work of a non-linguistic kind almost always prompts movement of the lips. Have you watched anyone threading a needle? Few people can do it without pursing or twisting their mouths.

David Bellos in Is That a Fish in Your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Intriguing thought: the same body bits, mouth and hands, used primarily for speaking and eating. Also for fighting and f*cking, give or take some bits that slot together. No wonder there’s fascination in the smoking of a cigarette, in the right lips and fingers.

We must have been communicating with each other using sound and touch well before what we now consider human language caught on. Smiling, stroking, pouting and patting…grooming and growling…the neural wiring for transmitting and receiving on these channels must lie deep, deeper than the wiring for packaging meaning in the form of word strings.

Like other uses of lips and hands…vocal noise establishes bonds between people who need or wish to be linked together in some way — for mutual support, to establish rank or to declare hostility

We must redefine [linguistic] communication not as the transmission of mental states from A to B (and even less as the transmission of ‘information’) but as the establishment, reinforcement and modification of immediate interpersonal relations. …Language is a human way of relating to other humans.

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