Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

LL possibly wrong… maybe language started with profanity

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-10-26

A recent LanguageLog post makes light of linguistics development using profanities, and ends "Well, maybe we could treat profanity as a sub-area of pragmatics."  Yes, indeed, as chimps taught sign language use the same term for faeces as they do labelling someone who is annoying them.

Mind you, in polite academic journals, the sign language for sh*t is rendered as "dirt"

So, both chimps and humans have the same attitude as what is obscene language, that whatever comes out of bums is just like an obnoxious person.

See the relevant sections of The Monkey Wars by Deborah Blum, or Chimpanzees’ use of sign language by Roger and Deborah Fouts, which provides the following quote from the subsection "Private Thoughts"

On one occasion after Debbi had positioned the cameras, shooed everyone out and gone back to the video monitoring room she saw on the screen that Washoe was approaching the cameras. Washoe then climbed up on the enclosure fence and looked directly into the camera and signed ‘deb dirty deb’. Washoe uses the dirty sign to refer to faeces, soiled items or to humans or chimpanzees that she is displeased with.


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