[Cyborg] an alternative to the Northpaw

Tomm tomm.fire at gmail.com
Tue Oct 5 02:32:28 UTC 2010

Here's a way to duplicate the effects of the north paw: become fluent in
Guugu Yimithirr

"But then a remote Australian aboriginal tongue, Guugu Yimithirr, from north
Queensland, turned up, and with it came the astounding realization that not
all languages conform to what we have always taken as simply “natural.” In
fact, Guugu Yimithirr doesn’t make any use of egocentric coordinates at all.
The anthropologist John Haviland and later the linguist Stephen Levinson
have shown that Guugu Yimithirr does not use words like “left” or “right,”
“in front of” or “behind,” to describe the position of objects. Whenever we
would use the egocentric system, the Guugu Yimithirr rely on cardinal
directions. If they want you to move over on the car seat to make room,
they’ll say “move a bit to the east.” To tell you where exactly they left
something in your house, they’ll say, “I left it on the southern edge of the
western table.” Or they would warn you to “look out for that big ant just
north of your foot.” Even when shown a film on television, they gave
descriptions of it based on the orientation of the screen. If the television
was facing north, and a man on the screen was approaching, they said that he
was “coming northward.”

"In order to speak a language like Guugu Yimithirr, you need to know where
the cardinal directions are at each and every moment of your waking life.
You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and
night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not
be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people
around you are saying. Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have
an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Regardless of visibility
conditions, regardless of whether they are in thick forest or on an open
plain, whether outside or indoors or even in caves, whether stationary or
moving, they have a spot-on sense of direction. They don’t look at the sun
and pause for a moment of calculation before they say, “There’s an ant just
north of your foot.” They simply feel where north, south, west and east are,
just as people with perfect pitch feel what each note is without having to
calculate intervals. There is a wealth of stories about what to us may seem
like incredible feats of orientation but for speakers of geographic
languages are just a matter of course. One report relates how a speaker of
Tzeltal from southern Mexico was blindfolded and spun around more than 20
times in a darkened house. Still blindfolded and dizzy, he pointed without
hesitation at the geographic directions.

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