LINGUIST List 12.711

Thu Mar 15 2001

Qs: Onomatopoeia/Babies, Kinesthetic-based Language

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  1. Gina, infant-learning of onomatopoeias and phonotactics
  2. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Kinesthetic-based Human Languages?

Message 1: infant-learning of onomatopoeias and phonotactics

Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 14:14:12 +0000
From: Gina <>
Subject: infant-learning of onomatopoeias and phonotactics


I was wondering if anyone can point me to any research that has been done on
infants' learning/responses to onomatopoeias in their native language that
include sounds (or phonotactics) not usually within their native language.

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Message 2: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages?

Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001 11:16:58 -0800
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages?

Dear Linguists,

After 30 years of investigating Algonkian languages and listening to the
insights of their speakers, I have some preliminary observations, a daring
- if not completely unprecedented -- hypothesis, and a request.

The original NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, co-developed by former TG
syntactician John Grinder, demonstrates how humans are primarily V(isual),
A(uditory), or K(inesthetic) in their sensory processing preferences; by
extension, groups and societies can enculturate their young into preferred
sensory modes, and ours is V-primary: words evoke pictures in the head for
those who are V-primary, though not me so much -- being K-primary, I�ve
always been feeling the beat of a different drum. Sign language is also
K-primary, with its 'speakers' thinking in gesture.

Imagine my surprise, then, on hearing a Canadian Blackfoot woman (Amethyst
First Rider, creator of Calgary�s Trickster Theatre) tell Bohmian Science
Dialogue participants in Albuquerque two summers ago and again last summer
that when she says even the simplest things in English, like "The man is
riding a horse," pictures come up in her head; but when she says the
equivalent in Blackfoot, no pictures -- just [kinesthetic] feelings of
riding. This adds to what her husband (Leroy Little Bear, a Constitutional
lawyer) says about Blackfoot: that it is made of about 80 roots which are
combined and recombined to make words/sentences.

As I found for Cheyenne, these roots often point to abstracted dynamic
(kinesthetic) primes, allowing {duck} (Se?Se) and {rattlesnake}
(Se?se-novotse � 2nd morpheme = {goes down a hole}) to share the
morphologically important first slot in Algonkian languages. Note our
semantic bogglement in trying at first to figure out visually what the
picture/object {duck} has to do with the picture/object {rattlesnake}. But
for Cheyenne, where animal names describe their unique traits, the first
(reduplicated) morpheme describes, for both, the zigzag motion and the sh-sh
rattle sound accompanying their movements as they�re going away from you.

So I believe we are, because of university educated Natives who can describe
their languages from the inside in English, just now -- after 500 years of
viewing these languages through our habitual Visual-primary lens -- arriving
at a new threshold of understanding. Thus I now hypothesize that *Algonkian
and other Native American languages to be determined are of a type
previously undescribed in linguistics, based primarily on a kinesthetic
rather than visual processing of spoken sounds.* This is a kinesthetic-
to-sound (& vice-versa) base rather than the (related?) kinesthetic-to-
visual base of Sign; and this is curious given the prevalence of Plains Sign
among Algonkians who were living in the Plains and western mountains (for
intratribal, as in simultaneously with speech for deaf elders, as well as
intertribal talk).

To the question: does anyone out there know of any linguistic or
ethnographic works (besides Whorf on Hopi aspects) where any such
observations or hints of such have been made before, perhaps tucked away in
a footnote, a musing, a dictionary definition ... or anything? (I know Ives
Goddard is sitting on an Algonkian-language goldmine for a Q like this, but
it�s a tough sort to get at this kind of language-and-cognition info.)
Navajo�s 352,000 or so sounds for {go}, according to Gary Witherspoon,
probably fit the kinesthetic-to-sound mode of human speech I�m proposing.

I would especially appreciate replies from Native American linguists,
anthropologists, teachers or students who speak their tribal languages, as
well as anyone else with citations or comments. I'll summarize if there are
enough responses.

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