linguistic qweep in our shared environment

[From Martin Taylor 2003.11.19.1709 EST]

[From Bruce Nevin (2003.11.19 16:06 EST)]

Bill Powers (2003.11.19.1020 MST)--

I have conceded that it is possible for the physical effects of A's
speaking to be different for A than for B.

Not only possible, but inevitable. Consider what one's own voice
sounds like the first time one hears it on a recording. Other
people's voices sound right, but one's own is a surprise.

But that's irrelevant. The point of "similarity" is that A perceives
that C seems to perceive the noise made by A in much the same way as
some other noise made by B. A and B might even be talking different
languages for that to be the case, but then the rest of Bruce's
argument comes to the fore:


At 11:33 AM 11/19/2003 -0700, Bill Powers wrote:

All evidence of physics (acoustics) so far supports the hypothesis
that the differences are kept within ranges that are sequestered
from one another, and any other supposition becomes less plausible
as the degree of variation and range of overlap increases (such as
the difference between 2,6 and 4,4 or the range of overlap between
2,6 and 6,2). But I don't give two twitches of a pundit's whiskers
whether the actual reality is more plausible or less plausible --
plausibility is among the slings and arrows to which explanations
are heir, reality is whatever it is -- all I need to know is that a
native speaker perceives one utterance as a repetition of another,
and a third utterance as not a repetition of either.


After all, I think this is also possible for native speakers of the
same language. If, every time you say "qweep" I hear "qwoop",
consistently and in all circumstances, how would we discover that
we were not having the same experience? "Give me two qweeps," you
say. I, hearing "give me two qwoops," will pick up two of the
things you have always called "qwoops" before, and give them to
you. And you will say what I hear as "Thank you for the qwoops,"
while you hear yourself say "thank you for the qweeps," which you
agree I gave you two of. Furthermore, when I say "quoop", I
actually emit sounds which to a third party sound like "flurge,"
but of course I hear then as "qwoop" and you hear them as "queep",
while a spectrograph records the patterns that are really there,
which are neither qwoop, qweep, nor flurge. Repeat the spectral
sounds, and the three parties each hear their respective versions,
while agreeing that qwoops, qweeps, or flurges are delicious with
chocolate sauce.

I guess you must have lived in Toronto, Bill! One learns quite easily
to hear "qwoop" as "qweep" and not to hear that they are "really"
different. "Really" means, here, "as heard by one accustomed to
hearing native speakers of only one dialect or language." I imagine
the sayer of "qwoop" hears himself as accurately saying "qweep"
unless he listens to the sound and not to the word (like observing
the sterring wheel rather than the position of the car in the lane).
It's the essence of perceiving categories that one learns not to
perceive differences that don't make a difference, and to perceive as
distinct identities that do make a difference (i.e. "bank" in the
context of finance or of bodies of water).

Martin (getting sucked in again)