Friday, October 26, 2007

Talking Versus Choking

Since much of the upcoming discussion on Monday night will center on issues raised by communication (what it is, how we do it, why we do it, etc.) I thought the following might be food for thought. This is taken from Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way which makes for an insightful and funny read about the development of English.

Discussing the emergence of the Cro-Magnon, Bryson says:

"[T]hese Cro-Magnon people were identical to us. They had the same physique, the same brain, the same looks. And, unlike all previous hominids who roamed the earth, they could choke on food. That may seem a trifling point, but the slight evolutionary change that pushed man's larynx deeper into his throat, and thus made choking a possibility, also brought with it the possibility of sophisticated, well-articulated speech.
Other mammals have no contact between their airways and esophagi. They can breathe and swallow at the same time, and there is no possibility of food going down the wrong way. But with Homo sapiens food and drink must pass over the larynx on the way to the gullet and thus there is a constant risk that some will be inadvertently inhaled. In modern humans, the lowered larynx isn't in position from birth. It descends sometime between the ages of three and five months - curiously, the precise period when babies are likely to suffer from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. At all events, the descended larynx explains why you can speak and your dog cannot" (22).

Hence the picture at the start of this post. While my beloved Spooky-dog has many talents, well-articulated speech is not among them. (Then again, she can take down any mole that dares encroach on her property far more quickly than I can, so there's always a trade-off, I suppose.)

At any rate, it seems that at some point in human development, the ability to form speech was worth the possibility of choking. There's a lesson in this beyond realizing that your mama was right and you shouldn't talk with your mouth full. We'll discuss that lesson (lessons?) Monday night as we watch "Hush."

See you there!

PS - because it's the time of year for silly vampire articles, you may want to check this out. A professor in Kansas sets out to debunk vampire myths - including why Buffy couldn't really slay a vampire.

1 comment:

Cly White said...

But, would Human Life be so difficult if the speech box had not dropped? We could still call for help. Make many unique sounds, and scream to the top of our lungs. Technology would have developed the same. Instead of radio, teletype would have become the main means of public communication. Telephones would work on the same teletype principles. TV would be silent, or subtitled. However our language would have taken thousands of more years to develop. If the voice box had never dropped, people could eat without the fear of choking. We would prevent the wasting of food that we currently throw away. We know that humanoids before the final product you see now ate every part of the creatures they hunted. The human appendix was designed to remove the shells from nuts, bone fragments, and other impurities humans ate. Currently the human appendix isn’t used. When the need for an appendix is needed the small organ tries to function. However, not that it’s lost the ability to rid the body of these fragments; it simply attracts them, becomes inflamed, then infected. This forces humans to endure a painful surgical operation that could have been avoided.
So, the ability to speak gave humans a great advantage in the world, and took away certain physiological advantages humans once had. Who is to say which advantages were best? People die every day from the complications created by the body’s evolutionary process to remove the appendix, and lower the voice box. Even more people have died because of the way in which they choose to speak. Wars are started over words, finished in death, and signed on paper. The written word seems much safer as a means of communication.

“I love the quite”.