Language Is For the Birds

Third Word: The Semantic Symbolic Circuit

Nomen nomenclature noun pronoun renown name nominate nominal denomination ignominy moniker eponymous anonymous misnomer anomaly onomatopoeia

Hmm. That’s a mouthful!

Names. We have all these funny words, which undo themselves by not living up to their names. For example, take the word, “monosyllable”, a multi-orgasmic, um, multi-syllabic tongue-twister. I mean, “monosyllable,” has five, count ’em, five syllables. What’s up with that?

“Onomatopoeia” is supposed to mean a word which sounds like a sound, except it doesn’t really sound like anything. “Vernacular” and “colloquial” are not even vaguely common or ordinary words. And “palindrome” backwards is just “obnoxious”. True story.

So maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but a little bird once told me that my language is just a bastardized dialect of birdsong. Actually, she didn’t call it a dialect. It’s one of those, how do you say? Pidgins. And a pidgin’s just a hard-luck dove.

I’m not sure I swallow all that, but my feathered friend said that what we call speech was originally a trick our ancestors picked up from imitating bird-calls. Yes, bird-calls, which are evidently a method of transmitting encoded intelligence briefings, within the high-spy community.

By parroting the whistles of birds, albeit with our thick primate guttural accents, we managed to acquire a scintilla of intelligence ourselves. Not enough to reliably understand each other, but once upon a time, as the crow flies, ancient humans didn’t have access to the lexical complexities of modern language at all. It was all grunts and farts back then.

According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, it was precisely this grunting and farting which led to cataclysmic global flooding. The stern decision to wash out emergent civilization came courtesy of some easily offended Sumerian deities, who, it is written, were fed up with the noise and stink of humanity. Oh, those humans! They smelled so loud!

As recorded in another contemporary myth, the survivors proceeded to make an even bigger mess of things, and became profoundly confused in the course of erecting a gaudy and hubristic sky-scraper. Words changed meaning so rapidly that mutual intelligibility was irrevocably lost in translation.

This tower was even more offensive to the heavens than the smell of Ur had been, and the high-rise project was cursed with communication failures. The Bible calls this tower “Babel”, but some scholars believe that the ambitious erection may have actually been called “Thump” by the ancients.

Mesoamerican folklore paints a curiously parallel picture. In the aftermath of a cosmic tsunami, the Goddess Xochiquetzal repopulated the world with wordless humans, who were nice enough, but had nothing whatsoever to contribute to the conversation.

Xochiquetzal thought this was rather dumb, so, as these deities are prone to do, She summoned a flock of doves to solution the situation. Now these doves, who always seem to do just fine during these floods, either taught the original languages to our ancestors, or were devoured by them. Accounts vary.

Several thousand years of pointless arguments later, scientists still debate the intelligence of our “high-brow” human whistlers, but the birds know that we’re merely mimicking them. Language still hangs like an albatross around our necks, making mischief in every shade of connotation.

Once upon a prehistoric time, the feather didn’t fall far from the wing, and jungle whistles were the words heard round the world. Speaking of whistling, there yet remain a few primitive enclaves where the bird is still the word, mostly in isolated hilly valleys where the acoustics carry the tune.

Today, these valleys are still home to modulated tonal languages which are whistled out by tribal humans, and the avian influence is obvious.

One such place is the Canary Islands, which wasn’t named for the birds at all, but for the canine wild wolves which probably ate a great many of them, who still wail off-key, baying at the moon in a hopeless yet heartfelt tribute. And that’s the wolf flow logic. Bark your territory.