LINGUIST List 12.918

Sun Apr 1 2001

Sum: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Dan Moonhawk Alford, SUM: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages? Turtle Island Hypothesis

Message 1: SUM: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages? Turtle Island Hypothesis

Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 12:30:31 -0700
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: SUM: Kinesthetic-based Human Languages? Turtle Island Hypothesis

Two weeks ago I asked if anyone had ever seen any references or musings
about any languages being more kinesthetically than visually oriented.
Well, as we say in linguistics, sometimes no data is actually data. ;-)

So we're left with the possibility that no one has ever proposed that
languages -- and even entire language families, especially in indigenous
North America -- have escaped notice of being a different KIND of human
language, where semantic primes are FELT rather than pictured from sound.
Since I have heard this same idea expressed by Natives of different language
families, I hereby dub this the "Turtle Island Hypothesis" about their own
languages -- as far as I know the first such indigenous hypothesis ever
proposed in this discipline.

The next hypothesis I'm working on concerns the philosophical linguistics
industry around the truth-value of propositions, and how it's useless in
Turtle Island languages. Whorf talked about how these languages continually
turn our propositions about things into propositions about events (or
eventing). That's great, but his limited fieldwork couldn't get him to the
next step, again an indigenous proposal: Algonkian (specifically, and
undoubtedly other) languages' speakers make propositions about their
*awareness of eventing in consciousness*, not the eventing itself. This
understanding is integral with the hypothesis above, that they're reporting
on their feelings. I'm told speakers don't say "I saw a coyote" as in
English but more like "I sqw-experienced coyote-ing" or "coyote-ing [+
manifest, or validity-marking of personal experiencing]" -- always leaving
the "truth" of it to the Great Mystery, since we're human and don't really
know whether ultimately it's a coyote or, say, a shapeshifter.

My thanks to Suzette Hayden Elgin, Hiromi Oda, Erica Smale and Deborah
Ruuskanen for kind and useful comments, partly excerpted below.

Elgin: I just want to mention one thing... Although it can't be proved
(because nobody has done the necessary research), it's very possible --
even very probable -- that sensory system dominance is primarily genetic
rather than "enculturated." I ordinarily compare it to handedness; it's
_possible_ to force a child to favor some other sensory system, just as
it's possible to force a lefthanded child to write with his or her right
hand, but the results are not going to be satisfactory, and problems are
almost inevitable. Different cultures rank different sensory systems at the
top of their list; American Anglo culture puts sight at the top and does
its best to shove touch clear off the ladder. But that doesn't keep touch
dominant kids from being touch dominant, it just causes trouble for them in
- -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Oda: You might be interested in my
dissertation I submitted last year.

An embodied semantic mechanism for mimetic words in Japanese
 by Oda, Hiromi, PhD
 INDIANA UNIVERSITY, 2000, 330 pages
 AAT 9981009
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Smale: My contribution to this latest discussion is to do with English,
regarding an example in semantic perception of a person who is cortically
blind and developmentally delayed. The sound of a sheep and the sound of a
crow are much the same. He knows the crow is above him, because he heard it
atop a pole. By his gestures of flinging his arms upward, we understand he
thinks sheep are also above him. There is no possibility of forming the
visual image, so in this case it would seem that the semantic perception
here is aurally based, though not onomatopoeiac, even though he speaks
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ruuskanen: I must say first of all that your hypothesis that language can
be A, K, or V, is out of my field, but that it certainly has been
mentioned in the L2 acquisition studies I've read. There is even an
entire programme of language learning based on students 'acting out' the
sentences they say (I pick up the banana), which works fine for
beginners but breaks down when abstract concepts have to be learned. All
that you say makes absolute sense to me. I've found in my own teaching
of translation that there are students who are definitely more audio
oriented (they don't work out what the sentence means until they say it
out loud), and those who are visually oriented (they've told me they get
'pictures in their heads' when they translate) - but I've not studied it
in any rigorous way.

Any further comments are welcome.

warm regards, moonhawk
<> & <>
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