Saturday, August 4, 2007

On Simultaneous Org-- ...er, On Communication

If you're a genuinely curious person, you will have the patience to first watch this video:



That's awesome in itself. That kind of bewildering hypnotism is possible. For another example of bewildering hypnotic kidnapping, click here. But now imagine this--it is a kind of forbidden experiment involving real human subjects, and so it must be imagined, must be only theoretical:

You are caught by surprise and hypnotized, and you awake to find yourself in a 12 ft. X 10 ft. room with white padded flooring and a white ceiling. There is a toilet, and twice a day someone opens a small tile in the wall and pushes food through. There is another person, incidentally of the same sex as you. Both of you are wearing white shorts and a white t-shirt.

You say "Hello." And then, "Where are we," and the other person mutters something in a language that sounds utterly different from your own. It seems you have never heard it before.

Days pass, and you have gone through the customary "first-encounter" rituals of pointing to your own chest and pronouncing your name. You have shaken hands, though your roommate did not see the handshake as something familiar. You both eat your food. Weeks pass.

Then months. It seems that eventually you will want to begin genuinely communicating with your roommate. Fastforward in time to that moment, the moment when it becomes clear to you that you must either learn to communicate with your roommate or go mad.

It seems to me that there are four options: 1) You will teach him your language. 2) He will teach you his language. 3) You will invent a mixed-language. 4) You will learn each others' languages and speak them both occasionally.

Assuming there are no directly overlapping linguistic histories between the two languages (other than a general "universal grammar" underlying both), I think it is probably unlikely that it would occur to most people, consciously, to choose option number 3. And yet (here's my thesis) I think option #3 may ultimately be the only lasting and mutually satisfying outcome assuming "escape" is not an option.

To myself, I wonder if this is really just a Puritan's way of discussing sex.

4 comments:

Wishydig said...

It would be a combination of 3 and 4. You would learn which symbols are most cherished by each other and you would each loosely apply your own grammar to a combination of both languages. You would allow enough flexibility to occasionally break rules for the sake of communication.

But this is important: it would not be a language. It would be a pidgin of two languages. There would be no real consistency and no deep structural rules would develop.

Let's imagine that you're stuck there with a woman. You and she will learn to get by with a rough type of communication that doesn't follow any set of rules and becomes mostly lexical with agreed-upon strategies. You'll not likely start producing terms or constructions that are unfamiliar to you. You won't learn anything like "the rule is to put an -l for past tense and an -r for past tense if the word has a fricative as the last sound."

You won't create anything based on rules. Only on trial/error and agreement.

But you fall in love and have kids. And they hear this messed up bunch of symbols that you and your common-law wife use and they organize some rules and create an actual language that is productive and pattern driven. Suddenly there's a language. A creole that was born of your pidgin.

Daniel said...

A radioactive Spider-Pidgin, if you will.

Cathy said...

Couldn't get past the video and my sense that it is a hoax.

I think there's an ethical question here that is at least as interesting as the communication quandary.

What kind of monsters would do that to another human being? And what kind of friends would stand by and watch it happen?

Justin said...

This video does seem quite staged. Most peculiar are the subject's friends, who lack any particular reaction to his going catatonic. Nobody is waving a hand in front of him wondering what is happening.

That doesn't mean the man wasn't hypnotized, but given what was seen on the game screen and what I know of hypnosis, it seems unlikely it was the game alone doing this. More likely this is a clever variation of traditional stage hypnosis, where the subject is hypnotized beforehand and given a post hypnotic suggestion to put them back under. This also explains the lack of reaction from his buddies, who probably knew. It could even explain a compulsion to play the game in the first place that might have also been a suggestion. Also notice the lack of a strong visual appeal in the gameplay; I find it hard to believe his friends were sitting over his shoulder watching because it was "cool looking" or interesting in any way. They look slightly like people expecting to get their faces on tv.

Michael's analysis of the question is probably the best, though given enough time you might become quite adept in each other's languages just to pass the time.