There is a phenomenon in linguistics where language complexity is directly related to how isolated a particular language is from its neighbors.  A new language is difficult to learn for adults.  When several languages rub up against each other, and adults find themselves speaking curtailed versions of one another’s lingos, languages impacted most by these mash-ups simplify, lose endings, abbreviate and drop challenging sounds.  When adults have to learn a language, the language suffers.

A small, isolated island nation may experience the opposite effect.  When only children are required to learn the language, the language, in both sounds and grammar, tends to proliferate novelties.  Children, without the inhibiting convention of adult habits, get creative.  Those adult conventions that are extremely challenging to outsider adults are things that children learn effortlessly.

The most complex languages in the world tend to be those of isolated aboriginals or a people not impacted by their neighbors for many centuries.  When you leave a language to be learned by only children, there is a multiplication of the unique.

What would it be like if that period of time characterized by the linking of countless associations with specific sounds, and the joyous experience that accompanies the learning to produce those sounds, was to prolong into the adult of our species?  Imagine this ability of children to learn language effortlessly drifting forward into older ages.

Neoteny is the prolongation of infant features into the adult of a species with ancestor embryo, infant and toddler features emerging over time in later ontological stages, eventually to emerge in the adults of descendants.  Our chimp-like progenitors had babies with big head-to-body ratios, large brain-to-head ratios, small chins, big foreheads, an ability to amble around upright, creativity, affection and a compulsion to connect.  In other words, our chimp-like forebears had infants that looked a lot like and behaved like contemporary adults.

Biology is not the only scale of experience that evolves.  Society is also influenced by the dynamic that compels biology to prolong the features of infants into the adults of descendants.  Society today reveals neotenous dynamics when new behaviors are invented or embraced by our youngest and carried with them as they age.  Texting, initiated by youth, is becoming ubiquitous across many age groups.  Social networking, at first only used by students, is now engaged in by half the nation.  In just the way that Rock ‘n’ Roll was played at first by mostly high schoolers, today Rock is the soundtrack of our lives.

Over the course of our recent history, many fads and trends emerged with low-income ethnic minorities and fanned out into mainstream culture.  With cell phone and social networking technologies becoming cheap enough for everyone to have, watch for unique and creative uses of these new technologies.  Societal neoteny evidences surges of creativity both from the young and from the disenfranchised.  Those closest to being aboriginal, those in poverty, the artists and the fringe–those furthest from the conventional center–are sources of the creative impulse, that which is newest that can prolong its way up the social tiers.

It is no mistake that there is a dramatic surge in those with autism and Asperger’s, mostly males that are maturational delayed.  We are observing the neotenization of society, the same as biological neoteny, with individuals taking longer to mature, with infant features emerging later and later, particularly the ability to speak.  Those with autism and Asperger’s are the white crest of the wave.  Massive numbers of males are taking longer to mature.

Keep in mind small, little-visited island nations with complicated languages, where children are the only ones to learn those languages.  Then, in world culture at large, consider the additional years that children are taking to absorb the world and develop their communication interface.  The neotenization factor is giving kids in the world at large a longer time to have that special ability to learn language.  It’s as if the astonishing lingual creativity obvious in an island culture is now manifesting in world culture at large, with our children embracing new technology and making new stuff up at a rate unfathomable even a generation ago.

And, in the way that formerly a culture could be isolated, the whole world is becoming integrated, allowing the incubation of creative novelties in the midst of the cacophony of societal interconnecting and combining.

We are members of this island nation with the children growing older while retaining the ability of the very young to create, integrate and understand.

As this child’s ability to make and manifest language creativity emerges in the adult of our species, observe a society that will explode with novelty.

Laughter will become the language of us all.


This entry was posted on Friday, June 5th, 2009 at 7:12 am and is filed under Autism & Society, Future, Neoteny, Play, Social, Society, Web. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. rich shull on July 30, 2009 10:26 am

    Indeed there is a universal language . Plus an anthropology of autistc people that build on the work of Temple Grandin that have figured it out. IF we are right, we have discovered the building blocks of man’s mind and we might be able to add another 1000 chapters to psychology.

    No matter what country we are from or what language we speak (all ignorat of each other)we all came up with the same base autism thoughts. Autism is both MR/DD and it is also figured out Einstein at the other extreme AND normal thoughts.

    Normal thoughts are SHORTHAND autism thoughts thus the reason why man has been so slow to figure out the keystone thoughts of his mind .

    Rich Shull, Inventor of The Turing Motor, Author of Autism’s banished book Autism Pre Rain Man Autism- built on Temple’s Thinking in Pictures

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