Bicameralism and Bilingualism

A paper on multilingualism was posted by Eva Dunkel in the Facebook group for The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind: Consequences of multilingualism for neural architecture by Sayuri Hayakawa and Viorica Marian. It is a great find. The authors look at how multiple languages are processed within the brain and how they can alter brain structure.

This probably also relates to learning of music, art, and math — one might add that learning music later improves the ability to learn math. These are basically other kinds of languages, especially the former in terms of  musical languages (along with whistle and hum languages) that might indicate language having originated in music, not to mention the close relationship music has to dance, movement, and behavior and close relationship of music to group identity. The archaic authorization of command voices in the bicameral mind quite likely came in the form of music and one could imagine the kinds of synchronized collective activities that could have dominated life and work in bicameral societies. There is something powerful about language that we tend to overlook and take for granted. Also, since language is so embedded in culture, monolinguals never see outside of the cultural reality tunnel they exist within. This could bring us to wonder about the role played post-bicameral society by syncretic languages like English. We can’t forget the influence psychedelics might have had on language development and learning at different periods of human existence. And with psychedelics, there is the connection to shamanism with caves as aural spaces and locations of art, possibly the earliest origin of proto-writing.

There is no reason to give mathematics a mere secondary place in our considerations. Numeracy might be important as well in thinking about the bicameral mind specifically and certainly about the human mind in general (Caleb Everett, Numbers and the Making of Us), as numeracy was an advancement or complexification beyond the innumerate tribal societies (e.g., Piraha). Some of the earliest uses of writing was for calculations: accounting, taxation, astrology, etc. Bicameral societies, specifically the early city-states, can seem simplistic in many ways with their lack of complex hierarchies, large centralized governments, standing armies, police forces, or even basic infrastructure such as maintained roads and bridges. Yet they were capable of immense projects that required impressively high levels of planning, organizing, and coordination — as seen with the massive archaic pyramids and other structures built around the world. It’s strange how later empires in the Axial Age and beyond that, though so much larger and extensive with greater wealth and resources, rarely even attempted the seemingly impossible architectural feats of bicameral humans. Complex mathematical systems probably played a major role in the bicameral mind, as seen in how astrological calculations sometimes extended over millennia.

Hayakawa and Marian’s paper could add to the explanation of the breakdown of the bicameral mind. A central focus of their analysis is the increased executive function and neural integration in managing two linguistic inputs — I could see how that would relate to the development of egoic consciousness. It has been proposed that the first to develop Jaynesian consciousness may have been traders who were required to cross cultural boundaries and, of course, who would have been forced to learn multiple languages. As bicameral societies came into regular contact with more diverse linguistic cultures, their bicameral cognitive and social structures would have been increasingly stressed.

Multilingualism goes hand in hand with literacy. Rates of both have increased over the millennia. That would have been a major force in the post-bicameral Axial Age. The immense multiculturalism of societies like the Roman Empire is almost impossible for us to imagine. Hundreds of ethnicities, each with their own language, would co-exist in the same city and sometimes the same neighborhood. On a single street, there could be hundreds of shrines to diverse gods with people praying, people invoking and incantating in their separate languages. These individuals were suddenly forced to deal with complete strangers and learn some basic level of understanding foreign languages and hence foreign understandings.

This was simultaneous with the rise of literacy and its importance to society, only becoming more important over time as the rate of book reading continues to climb (more books are printed in a year these days than were produced in the first several millennia of writing). Still, it was only quite recently that the majority of the population became literate, following from that is the ability of silent reading and its correlate of inner speech. Multilingualism is close behind and catching up. The consciousness revolution is still under way. I’m willing to bet American society will be transformed as we return to multilingualism as the norm, considering that in the first centuries of American history there was immense multilingualism (e.g., German was once one of the most widely spoken languages in North America).

All of this reminds me of linguistic relativity. I’ve pointed out that, though not explicitly stated, Jaynes obviously was referring to linguistic relativity in his own theorizing about language. He talked quite directly about the power language —- and metaphors within language —- had over thought, perception, behavior, and identity (Anke Snoek has some good insights about this in exploring the thought of Giorgio Agamben). This was an idea maybe first expressed by Wilhelm von Humboldt (On Language) in 1836: “Via the latter, qua character of a speech-sound, a pervasive analogy necessarily prevails in the same language; and since a like subjectivity also affects language in the same notion, there resides in every language a characteristic world-view.” And Humboldt even considered the power of learning another language in stating that, “To learn a foreign language should therefore be to acquire a new standpoint in the world-view hitherto possessed, and in fact to a certain extent is so, since every language contains the whole conceptual fabric and mode of presentation of a portion of mankind.”

Multilingualism is multiperspectivism, a core element of the modern mind and modern way of being in the world. Language has the power to transform us. To study language, to learn a new language is to become something different. Each language is not only a separate worldview but locks into place a different sense of self, a persona. This would be true not only for learning different cultural languages but also different professional languages with their respective sets of terminology, as the modern world has diverse areas with their own ways of talking and we modern humans have to deal with this complexity on a regular basis, whether we are talking about tax codes or dietary lingo.

It’s hard to know what that means for humanity’s trajectory across the millennia. But the more we are caught within linguistic worlds and are forced to navigate our way within them the greater the need for a strong egoic individuality to self-initiate action, that is to say the self-authorization of Jaynesian consciousness. We step further back into our own internal space of meta-cognitive metaphor. To know more than one language strengthens an identity separate from any given language. The egoic self retreats behind its walls and looks out from its parapets. Language, rather than being the world we are immersed in, becomes the world we are trapped in (a world that is no longer home and from which we seek to escape, Philip K. Dick’s Black Iron Prison and William S. Burroughs Control). It closes in on us and forces us to become more adaptive to evade the constraints.

The Power of Language Learning

“I feel that American as against British English, and English of any major dialect as against Russian, and both languages as against the Tarascan language of Mexico constitute different worlds. I note that it is persons with experience of foreign languages and poetry who feel most acutely that a natural language is a different way not only of talking but of thinking and imaging and of emotional life.”
~Paul Friedrich, The Language Parallax, Kindle Locations 356-359

“Marketing professor David Luna has performed tests on people who are not just bilingual but bicultural—those who have internalized two different cultures—which lend support to this model of cultural frames. Working with people immersed equally in both American and Hispanic cultures, he examined their responses to various advertisements and newspaper articles in both languages and compared them to those of bilinguals who were only immersed in one culture. He reports that biculturals, more than monoculturals, would feel “like a different person” when they spoke different languages, and they accessed different mental frames depending on the cultural context, resulting in shifts in their sense of self.”
~Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, p. 204

Like Daniel Everett, the much earlier Roger Williams went to convert the natives, and in the process he was deconverted, at least to the extent of losing his righteous Puritanism. And as with Everett, he studied the native languages and wrote about them. That could be an example of the power of linguistic relativity, in that studying another language could cause you to enter another cultural worldview.

On a related note, Baruch Spinoza did textual analysis, Thomas Paine did Biblical criticism, Friedrich Nietzsche did philology, etc. It makes one wonder how studying language might help shape the thought and redirect the life trajectory of certain thinkers. Many radicals have a history of studying languages and texts. The same thing is seen with a high number of academics, ministers, and apologists turning into agnostics and atheists through an originally faithful study of the Bible (e.g., Robert M. Price).

There is a trickster quality to language, something observed by many others. To closely study language and the products of language is to risk having one’s mind unsettled and then to risk being scorned by those locked into a single linguistic worldview. What Everett found was that, in trying to translate the Bible for the Piraha, he was destabilizing his place within the religious order and also, in discovering the lack of linguistic recursion, destabilizing his place within the academic order. Both organized religion and organized academia are institutions of power that maintain the proper order. For the same reason of power, governments have often enforced a single language for the entire population, as thought control and social control, as enforced assimilation.

Monolingualism goes hand in hand with monoculturalism. And so simply learning a foreign language can be one of the most radical acts that one can commit. The more foreign the language, the more radical the effect. But sometimes simply scrutinizing one’s own native language can shift one’s mind, a possible connection between writing and a greater potential for independent thought. Then again, knowledge of language can also make one a better rhetorician and propagandist. Language as trickster phenomenon does have two faces.

* * *

The Bilingual Mind
by Aneta Pavlenko
pp. 25-27

Like Humboldt and Sapir before him, Whorf, too, believed in the plasticity of the human mind and its ability to go beyond the categories of the mother tongue. This belief permeates the poignant plea for ‘multilingual awareness’ made by the terminally ill Whorf to the world on the brink of World War II:

I believe that those who envision a world speaking only one tongue, whether English, German, Russian, or any other, hold a misguided ideal and would do the evolution of the human mind the greatest disservice. Western culture has made, through language, a provisional analysis of reality and, without correctives, holds resolutely to that analysis as final. The only correctives lie in all those other tongues which by aeons of independent evolution have arrived at different, but equally logical, provisional analyses. ([ 1941b ] 2012 : 313)

Whorf’s arguments fell on deaf ears, because they were made in a climate significantly less tolerant of linguistic diversity than that of the late imperial Russia and the USSR. In the nineteenth century, large immigrant communities in the US (in particular German speakers) enjoyed access to native-language education, press and theater. The situation began to change during the period often termed the Great Migration (1880–1924), when approximately 24 million new immigrants entered the country (US Bureau of the Census, 1975 ). The overwhelming influx raised concerns about national unity and the capacity of American society to assimilate such a large body of newcomers. In 1917, when the US entered the European conflict declaring war on Germany, the anti-immigrant sentiments found an outlet in a strong movement against ‘the language of the enemy’: German books were removed from libraries and destroyed, German-language theaters and publications closed, and German speakers became subject to intimidation and threats (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ; Wiley , 1998 ).

The advisability of German – and other foreign-language-medium – instruction also came into question, in a truly Humboldtian fashion that linked the learning of foreign languages with adoption of ‘foreign’ worldviews (e.g., Gordy , 1918 ). The National Education Association went as far as to declare “the practice of giving instruction … in a foreign tongue to be un-American and unpatriotic” (Fitz-Gerald , 1918 : 62). And while many prominent intellectuals stood up in defense of foreign languages (e.g., Barnes, 1918 ), bilingual education gave way and so did foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, where children were judged most vulnerable and where 80% of them ended their education. Between 1917 and 1922, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota issued laws that prohibited foreign-language instruction in grades I through VIII, while Wisconsin and Minnesota restricted it to one hour a day. Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio made the teaching of German illegal at the elementary level, and so did several cities with large German-speaking populations, including Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ). The double standard that made bilingualism an upper-class privilege reserved for ‘real’ Americans is seen in the address given by Vassar College professor Marian Whitney at the Modern Language Teachers conference in 1918:

In so far as teaching foreign languages in our elementary schools has been a means of keeping a child of foreign birth in the language and ideals of his family and tradition, I think it a bad thing; but to teach young Americans French, German, or Spanish at an age when their oral and verbal memory is keen and when languages come easily, is a good thing. (Whitney , 1918 : 11–12)

The intolerance reached its apogee in Roosevelt ’s 1919 address to the American Defense Society that equated English monolingualism with loyalty to the US:

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse; and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is the loyalty to the American people. (cited in Brumberg, 1986 : 7)

Reprinted in countless Board of Education brochures, this speech fortified the pressure not only to learn English but to abandon native languages. This pressure precipitated a rapid shift to English in many immigrant communities, further facilitated by the drastic reduction in immigrant influx, due to the quotas established by the 1924 National Origins Act (Pavlenko , 2002a ). Assimilation efforts also extended to Native Americans, who were no longer treated as sovereign nations – many Native American children were sent to English-language boarding schools, where they lost their native languages (Morgan, 2009 ; Spack , 2002 ).

The endangerment of Native American languages was of great concern to Boas, Sapir , and Whorf , yet their support for linguistic diversity and multilingualism never translated into reforms and policies: in the world outside of academia, Americanization laws and efforts were making US citizenry unapologetically monolingual and the disappearance of ‘multilingual awareness’ was applauded by academics who viewed bilingualism as detrimental to children’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional development (Anastasi & Cordova , 1953 ; Bossard, 1945 ; Smith, 1931 , 1939 ; Spoerl , 1943 ; Yoshioka , 1929 ; for discussion, see Weinreich, 1953 : 115–118). It was only in the 1950s that Arsenian ( 1945 ), Haugen ( 1953 , 1956 ), and Weinreich ( 1953 ) succeeded in promoting a more positive view of bilingualism, yet part of their success resided in the fact that by then bilingualism no longer mattered – it was regarded, as we will see, as an “unusual” characteristic, pervasive at the margins but hardly relevant for the society at large.

In the USSR, on the other hand, linguists’ romantic belief in linguistic rights and politicians’ desire to institutionalize nations as fundamental constituents of the state gave rise to the policy of korenizatsia [nativization] and a unique educational system that promoted the development of multilingual competence (Hirsch, 2005 ; Pavlenko , 2013 ; Smith , 1998 ). It is a little-known and under-appreciated irony that throughout the twentieth century, language policies in the ‘totalitarian’ Soviet Union were significantly more liberal – even during the period of the so-called ‘russification’– than those in the ‘liberal’ United States.