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双语新闻-语言是如何出现的?How does language emerge?
发布时间:2019-12-05 作者:admin 点击:109

How does language emerge?


上海译锐翻译      2019.12.5    11:10 a.m.

How did the almost 6000 languages of the world come into being? Researchers from the Leipzig Research Centre for Early Childhood Development at Leipzig University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have tried to simulate the process of developing a new communication system in an experiment -- with surprising results: even preschool children can spontaneously develop communication systems that exhibit core properties of natural language.

全球大约有6千种语言,这些语言都是如何形成的?莱比锡大学幼儿早期成长莱比锡研究中心(Leipzig Research Centre for Early Childhood Development)以及马克斯-普朗克进化人类研究所(Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)的研究者们尝试在一个实验中模拟一种新沟通体系的形成过程。这一实验带来了惊人的结果:即使是学龄前儿童也可以自发地发明一种沟通体系且该体系具有天然语言的核心特性。

How the languages of the world emerged is largely a mystery. Considering that it might have taken millennia, it is intriguing to see how deaf people can create novel sign languages spontaneously. Observations have shown that when deaf strangers are brought together in a community, they come up with their own sign language in a considerably short amount of time. The most famous example of this is Nicaraguan Sign Language, which emerged in the 1980s. Interestingly, children played an important role in the development of these novel languages. However, how exactly this happened has not been documented, as Manuel Bohn describes: "We know relatively little about how social interaction becomes language. This is where our new study comes in."

世界上各种语言的出现在很大程度上是一个谜。由于语言的形成可能需要花费上千年的时间,因此了解聋哑人是如何自发创造出新奇的手势语言过程是一件非常有趣的事。通过观察,我们可以发现,当一群互不相识的聋哑人被聚在一起时,他们会在非常短的时间内想出自己的手势语。关于这一现象的一个最著名的例子就是“尼加拉瓜手势语”,其出现于20世纪80年代。有趣的是,儿童在这些新奇语言的形成过程中扮演着重要角色。然而,儿童具体发挥了哪些作用却并未被记录下来。正如Manuel Bohn所描述的那样:“相对而言,我们对社交如何转变为语言的过程一无所知。这也是我们新研究的切入点。”

In a series of studies, researchers at the Leipzig Research Centre for Early Childhood Development and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology attempted to recreate exactly this process. The idea had been around for quite some time, says Gregor Kachel. But there was a problem: how to make children communicate with each other without them reverting to talking to each other? The solution came up in Skype conversations between the two researchers from Germany and their colleague Michael Tomasello in the US. In the study, children were invited to stay in two different rooms and a Skype connection was established between them. After a brief familiarization with the set-up, the researchers sneakily turned off the sound and watched as the children found new ways of communicating that go beyond spoken language.

莱比锡大学幼儿早期成长莱比锡研究中心以及马克斯-普朗克进化人类研究所的研究者们试图在一系列研究中准确重塑社交转变为语言的过程。这一想法已经形成相当长一段时间了,Gregor Kachel表示。但是,这里有一个问题。如何让孩子们在相互交流的同时避免重新采用谈话来进行沟通?这一解决办法来自于德国研究者和其位于美国的同事Michael Tomasello利用Skype进行交谈时。在研究中,孩子们受邀呆在两间不同的房间,然后孩子们用Skype保持联系。当孩子们对场景进行简短的熟悉后,研究人员会悄悄关掉声音,然后观察孩子如何寻找替代口头语言的新办法来进行沟通。

The children's task was to describe an image with different motifs in a coordination game. With concrete things -- like a hammer or a fork -- children quickly found a solution by imitating the corresponding action (e.g. eating) in a gesture. But the researchers repeatedly challenged the children with new, more abstract pictures. For example, they introduced a white sheet of paper as a picture. The depicted "nothing" is difficult to imitate. Kachel describes how two children nevertheless mastered this task: "The sender first tried all sorts of different gestures, but her partner let her know that she did not know what was meant. Suddenly our sender pulled her T-shirt to the side and pointed to a white dot on her coloured T-shirt. The two had a real breakthrough: of course! White! Like the white paper! Later, when the roles were switched, the recipient didn't have a white spot on her T-shirt, but she nevertheless took the same approach: she pulled her T-shirt to the side and pointed to it. Immediately her partner knew what to do." Within a very short time, the two had established a sign for an abstract concept. In the course of the study, the images to be depicted became more and more complex, which was also reflected in the gestures that the children produced. In order to communicate, for example, an interaction between two animals, children invented separate gestures for actors and actions and began to combine them -- thus creating a kind of small local grammar.


How does a language emerge? Based on the present study, the following steps appear plausible: first, people create reference to actions and objects via signs that resemble things. The prerequisite for this is a common ground of experience between interaction partners. Partners also coordinate by imitating each other such that they use the same signs for the same things. The signs thus gain interpersonal and eventually conventional meaning. Over time, the relationships between the signs and things become more abstract and the meaning of the individual signs more specific. Grammatical structures are gradually introduced when there is a need to communicate more complex facts. However, the most remarkable aspect of the current studies is that these processes can be observed under controlled circumstances and within 30 minutes.


The studies demonstrate that communication cannot be reduced to words alone. When there is no way to use conventional spoken language, people find other ways to get their message across. This phenomenon forms the basis for the development of new languages. The study by Manuel Bohn, Gregor Kachel and Michael Tomasello shows what the first steps in the development of a new language could look like. According to Bohn, however, numerous new questions arise at this point: "It would be very interesting to see how the newly invented communication systems change over time, for example when they are passed on to new 'generations' of users. There is evidence that language becomes more systematic when passed on."

研究表明,沟通不可能被还原为单独的词语。当没有办法使用管用的口头语言时,人们会寻找其他方式来传达信息。这一现象就形成了新语言发展的基础。Manuel Bohn,Gregor Kachel和Michael Tomasello的研究向我们展示了新语言发展最初阶段的样子。根据Bohn的介绍,大量新问题会在此时出现:“观察新发明的语言将如何随着时间发生变化会是一件非常有趣的事。比如,新语言会传给新一代的使用者。这也证明了随着语言一代代传递,它也会变得越来越系统化。”

文章来源:科学日报  编辑:Susan