This week I finished The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, a book whose subject matter should be self-evident. Shortly afterwards I was given the opportunity to talk to Daniel Cloud, the author of said work and professor of philosophy at Princeton University.
To summarize it very briefly the book is a thorough and eye-opening examination of language as a piece of culture that has been grown and thus evolved due to choices and actions we’ve made as human beings. While our discussion of his work was incredibly thorough and actually exceeded an hour I’ve managed to cut it down to something that closely approximates a conversation, and one that I hope will convince you to pick up a copy for yourselves.
Evan: Now I will of course be putting together some form of introduction to preface this interview, but I thought it would be good for our readers to hear you describe yourself in your own words-
Cloud: I would say that I am an American philosopher carrying on the American philosophical tradition. I worked in science for a while in Russia and China which gave me some some experience with socioeconomic change; I was in those places during a period of upheaval. Research as a philosopher most interested me when I decided to quit and go back to school. Biology and evolution in particular stood out as I already knew a lot about the social sciences.
Evan: As far as The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal is concerned I would describe your primary goal as breaking down the origin of human language. Would you agree with that?
Cloud: My goal was and is to explain where language comes from, yes, but specifically the theory of cultural evolution and if it works relative to language. Language is one type of culture, and the specific type of culture I chose to focus on in this book was words as they’re discrete identities that are easy to identify and track throughout history.
The larger project is actually to track humans as being distinct from other types of living things. To return to language I present it as a tool for exploring the way cultural evolution works. It’s the application of the word “domestication” as seen in the title, the theory that just like animals and plants what we have in the present day is very different from how it began. Words are only the first thing I’ve tried to identify in this way. I could just as easily have turned to fashion or clothes or any other kind of culture. Continue reading →
I’m currently in the last year of my English undergraduate degree. Well, kinda. I will probably have to do an extra semester to finish off my credits completely, but after next semester I will have finally finished all my English requirements.
Like many students, I kind of fell into my major. In my first year of full time studies I was seriously considering a degree in economics, or anthropology. Until I took a class in those subjects and quickly changed my mind. Once I started figuring out what kind of classes I actually liked, I started talking about doing my degree in Sociology, Political Science, or Environmental Ethics. Then, when I transferred to UVic, I decided I would take their writing program. Well I thought I was decided, until I was invited to join the English Honours program. That invitation totally went to my head and I dropped everything in order to pursue that (very structured) program.
Because of the number of required English classes (and because I blew many of my elective classes during first year), I’ve been taking pretty-well only English classes for the last two years. During that time, I began to ask myself if I had made the best choice. After all, English is really just reading books, isn’t it? Couldn’t I do that in my own time?
Ah, reading for fun/relaxation. Can’t wait until I get to do that again.
Now that I’m getting close to the end of my degree, I’m able to look back and be thankful for (almost) all of the English classes I needed to take. Yes, I still feel like there are a million others I wish I could have taken, but I think I would have felt that way regardless of my major. There are more fantastic courses out there than what you can possibly fit into one undergraduate degree.
Getting close to the end has also allowed me to reflect on the many English courses I have taken and realize just how broad a range of subjects they actually address. I’ve included a few examples below.
One of the texts we are translating for our final project.
I’m currently finishing off a class on Middle English that I did not want to take. Not at all. I’m required to take a class in early English literature, so I chose this class after a friend recommended the professor. I was then pleasantly surprised to find that it was a fantastic class. It was also not at all what I was expecting.
English has evolved considerably since the 12th century, so it’s hardly surprising that trying to read Middle English texts is like reading an entirely different language.
At the beginning of the class our professor touched on many of the other languages that have influenced the formation of the English language. Then, as the class progressed, a lot of the work we did in class involved translating various works. The translation process required a basic understanding of how to parse language, something I had almost no experience with. Like many English speakers, sentence structure is something I know intuitively, not something I’ve intentionally learned. However, if my experience in Quebec this summer taught me anything, it’s that knowing how to break down language is key to learning a new one. So I’m hopeful that the linguistic skills I’ve been struggling to learn in this class will help me with my future language learning goals. Continue reading →
The Exorcist came out in 1973, and while pretty tame by today’s standards, was nonetheless an iconic film which arguably gave birth to the entire “exorcist-film” genre.
Of course, by “genre”, I mean a number of studios have been trying to make the exact same ****ing movie every single year and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
We’re just now in July and we’ve already had a few out churned out, though what got me on the subject have been the non-stop ads for Deliver Us From Evil, the latest cash-grab which look like a soulless mash-up of both the exorcist and zombie apocalypse flicks.
Yeah. Possession that somehow spreads a la zombie-logic. Let’s go ahead and start right there.
There’s an entire graveyard of first-drafts of this piece sitting somewhere in the dusty virtual archives of CWR, but after eluding me for so long (and I mean months, people) I finally think I’ve got this complicated and multifaceted post down.
As much as it’s making a good statement about the way we treat mental illness (and we’ll touch more on that in a second), the simple fact of the matter is that the idea that mental illness is something that just “happens” is wrong. The comic asks us “Would you really tell someone with a broken hand to just ‘get over it’?”. To which I say, “No, but I would yell at him for not wearing cast or for trying to punch through cinder blocks.” Continue reading →
So why does “beauty” as a topic come up so often? Well, probably because it’s a question that gets thrown at us every day through advertising. I for one, get this ad popping up on my Facebook every few days.