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Discussion Details

Title: Verbal / Non-verbal Phenomal Aspects of Language
Submitter: Nicla Rossini
Description: Dear Members of the LinguistList,

I am currently writing a book which should provide account of verbal and
non verbal phenomena as part of language. The concept itself of language is
particularly broad, and I am attempting to study the phenomena involved
in both communication and interaction between organisms by different
perspectives. My first hypothesis is that, being communication what MacKay
(1999:3) defines as – simply communicatio (from Latin communication,
communicati onis: to share with someone the act of communication or
distributing), no theoretical distinction is needed between the act itself
of communication and the act itself of interacting. What counts as
communication is perhaps the phenomenon taking place in our brain, when it
interacts with itself or with other brains, or organisms. This makes
possible either intra-specific and inter-specific communication (see
Thorpe,199, among others for a wider discussion of inter-specific
communication between man and animals).

For this reason, I would like to discuss with you about the nature itself
of Language. I have a number of questions, and I am sure that any
suggestion will help me resolve them more than easily. In particular, I
hypothesise that there is no difference between language and communication:
what we define language is, in itself a way to interact with both oneself
(as already stated by Leonard Bloomfield) and with the world surrounding
us. I believe that the key for language as a behaviour, although not all
scholars agree in considering language by a behaviourist point of view, is
in the way our brain functions and interacts with other brains.

My hypothesis about the nature itself of Language was corroborated by
several studies, which I read with particular attention: among them,
suffice it to mention Edelman’s Theory on Neuronal Group Selection (1989)
which I find particularly interesting for the comprehension of the
phenomena involved in “thinking for speaking” (already stated in McNeill,
1997). In effect, my hypothesis is that the Brain is to be considered as
the essence itself of language as communication, Language being,
ultimately, the system how our brains work either in isolation or in
interaction with one ore more individuals. I thus imply that, verbal and
von-verbal phenomena (such as emotions, gestures, speech and prosody, among
other phenomena of our daily interaction with one another) are nothing but
language. Such a definition of language as interaction, already addressed
by a number of scholars, can provide a new interpretation to gauge
information by the different branches of study (such as Linguistics,
Mathematics, Anthropology, Neuroscience, etc.) in order to gauge a
definition of language which might be less dispersive. Language should
perhaps be interpreted as a powerful phenomenon by which not only does
intercultural communication happen between human beings speaking different
native languages, but also inter-specific communication is possible between
animals pertaining to different species and daily interacting with human

Language, again may be interpreted as a way to both categorize the space
surrounding us, and as a way to orientate ourselves in a complex phenomenon
taking place while we are “thinking”, that is, orientating ourselves and –
eventually – our interlocutors, in a phenomenon which is well known among
Computational linguists studying Natural Language Processing: the
phenomenon in question is Planning (see, for instance, Ferrari, 1997). My
hypothesis is that even those gestures called “autistic” (Mahl, 1968), for
they are spontaneous but are not apparently communicative, help the speaker
himself to orientate his thought to find the right communicative solution
when he is trying to manage TOT situations or arousal for a problem in
collaboration with another human being. During the last yeas, I have worked
at several projects at the University of Pavia, on the one hand, and at the
University of Oriental Piedmont (Ferrari’s Li.Co.T.T. lab). The projects I
have been working at, and which will probably merge into the book I am
writing, are as follows:

- Cross-cultural variations in the use of semiotic and personal space in
co-verbal gestures
- Glottochronology in gesture
- Gesture and prosody as indexes of lexicalisation
- gesture-speech synchronization in multi-tasking activities
- The emergence of gesture and speech in pre-term infants
- How co-verbal gestures may act as an index of “self-orientation” and
organisation between ideas in order to express them more correctly when
interacting others. Such a phenomenon is well known in the environment of
computational linguistics, and is usually called Planning (See, for
instance, Ferrari, 1991)

Since my education gathers different approaches, I would be enthusiastic if
my book could provide account for the different branches of study I am
interested in. Of course, any suggestion about this issue would more than

Dr. Nicla Rossini
Li.Co.T.T. Università del Piemonte Orientale
“Amedeo Avogadro” Vercelli
Dipartimento di Linguistica
Università di Pavia
Date Posted: 22-Oct-2005
Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language
Cognitive Science
LL Issue: 16.3047
Posted: 22-Oct-2005

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