Consciousness, Poetry, and Bilingual Babies

We take a trip inside the mind in this week’s pod.

How much is human consciousness shaped by language? Somewhat, says theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey. He’s more interested in the other things that shape it, like what he calls the “lake of sensation” — colors, lights and sounds. I guess you could argue that those sensations themselves comprise the elements of a language of consciousness.

Humphrey views this kind of raw feeling as predating language in infants.  Maybe, but recent research on the bilingual brain suggests that we may begin our language development as early as in the womb.  I talk with the host of the Big Show’s Science podcast Rhitu Chatterjee about this. She did her own podcast on the subject. One of the takeaway results of the research is that babies reared in a bilingual setting can distinguish between the two languages, and also between those familiar languages and unfamiliar ones.

Finally, we  consider poetry. Some poems might be seen as attempts to revert to a pre-linguistic form of communication. Others try to bridge the gulf between consciousness and language. And then there’s the language of former Turkmenistan leader Saparmurat Niyazov. He liked to call himself Turkmenbashi or Leader of Turkmens (he was the self-appointed president of the Association of Turkmens of the World). His poetry was  less engaged with issues of consciousness or language, and more with his own stupendously elevated place in the world. Not so much a lake of sensation as an ocean of self-regard:

I am the Turkmen spirit
And I was reborn
To bring you a golden age and happiness
I came here as a envoy of prosperity
And the music of the melody of life.

Listen via iTunes or here.

Photos: Joseph Pons, Wikimedia Commons


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3 responses to “Consciousness, Poetry, and Bilingual Babies

  1. Tess Carter

    I definitely think that babies can be bilingual. I grew up speaking English and Chinese in my house and all of my younger siblings were able to show some response to both of the languages when they were babies. They knew when to “clap their hands” whether it was in English or Chinese.
    Of course, it is easier to learn a language at a very young age. I think if I tried to learn Chinese now I would be hopeless.
    Sometimes I like to consciously think about how I am able to distinguish the two languages and I translate between both. Personally, I think that being lingual has helped me become more susceptible to learning different languages as I can easily distinguish sounds and tones. This is especially helpful from knowing Chinese because it requires the use of sounds and mouth movements that aren’t used in English.

    Tess Carter
    NVCC Student
    CST 229-001N

  2. Fariza Madieva

    Since the topic here is babies being bilingual I would like to say a few things. I surely know that we’re all bilingual when we are bord but not in Mothers’ womb because we cant really see anything. Our eyes are closed and we cant smell anything with out noses. When we are bord then we start seeing and smelling. When I was growing up we spoke to languages too in my house. Farsi and Russian. With the time when we moved to Turkey at a very young age I learned Turkish and was able to speak English because my school was American! Now I am able to speak four languages.
    Babies with grownups have a language of acting to different things. For example when we are sad or mad we cry but so do the babies!

    NVCC Student
    CST 229-01

  3. Ximena Fernandez

    I think that babies can be multilingual. By brother’s baby girl can understand 3 different languages, and she is only 4 years. Her mom and my brother speak to her in English, my mother speaks to her in Spanish and my brother’s in laws speak to her in Italian. If anyone ask her something in, let’s say Spanish, she’ll answer in Spanish, and if the question is in English, she’ll answer in English or if it’s in Italian, she’ll answer in Italian.
    I learn English as a second language and I agree when they said that “once you learn a second language your first language is affected” because sometimes I kind of mix Spanish and English or I use Spanglish without even noticing it. Since he mentioned grammar, I would say that learning a second language didn’t affect my Spanish grammar at all; I think that is because when I’m writing I spend more time thinking on what i want to say and write.
    NVCC Student

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