A Neanderthal breakthrough

A great moment in fictive human history, captured in a 5/2/21 Rhymes With Orange cartoon:

(#1) Caveman quiz great inventor cavewoman, she make definite article

Well, yes, Hilary Price has her doing it in English, a specific language, which has to stand in for Human Language, because we have no way of representing text in Human Language.  And Price has her doing it in English orthography (rather than speech), because this is a cartoon (not an address) and the presentation has to be visual. And, stunningly, Price has her doing it as a sculpture, a piece of 3-dimensional artwork, rather than by making marks on some surface — possibly because women are the creators of beautiful useful things, aesthetically satisfying everyday objects. (Beyond that, Price has her cavewoman  explicitly viewing her work as potentially world-changing — an ambition usually associated, these days anyway, with males.)

Some background. From two of my postings on the Caveman cartoon meme.

— from my 9/3/19 posting “Cavemen of higher education”:

A twist on the caveman cartoon meme, with a Neanderthal pursuing a higher education. And attempting to get college credit for his life experiences.

(#2) The Bizarro Neanderthal cartoon

with a section on the Geico Cavemen ads:

The premise of the commercials is that GEICO advertises that using their website is “so easy, a caveman could do it”; and that this slogan offends several cavemen, who not only still exist in modern society but live as intelligent, urbane bachelors.

— from my 9/10/19 posting “Him wear saurian monitor”, taking off from a Scott Hilburn cartoon:

(#3) Them speak Caveman Talk

with sections on cartoon cavemen and on Caveman Talk; on the latter, I wrote that the characters’ sentences

show features from a large collection of language forms:

— from first-language acquisition, second-language learning, contact languages, non-standard varieties (because these are widely viewed as imperfect approximations to correctness), and  conventional burlesques of “foreigner talk”, “Tonto-talk”, and the like. See my 11/1/12 posting“George Booth”, with a section on Booth’s caveman-talk cartoon “Ip Gissa Gul”.

— telegraphic registers in writing (for instance, the headline register) and speech (for instance, the sports-announcer register). See my 8/3/18 posting “The rainbow pillars of Montreal”, with a section on Arnold Zwicky & Ann Zwicky, “Telegraphic registers in written English”, from 1981.

— “reduced” expression-types in casual speech.

Absence of articles — especially, the definite article the — is characteristic of all three language forms. Meanwhile, it’s true that there are languages (a considerable number of them) without definite (and indefinite) articles, but these languages have other devices that do the work of definite articles in marking given/new status and uniqueness: notably, deictics (especially deictic demonstratives like English this and that), word order, and prosody. (Pointing and other gestures, and the judicious use of repetition, can do some of this work in structuring discourse in context.) There is no way that anarthrous languages can be viewed as “primitive”, given the sophistication of these alternative devices.

Caveman Talk is a bit of playful fantasy, from an imagined world of truly primitive proto-humans, presented in cartoons in much the same way as the many talking creatures in cartoons, almost all of which are simultaneously creatures and human beings. As in yesterday’s posting “Today’s exercise in cartoon understanding”, where I wrote:

Note that the main character in [the Bizarro cartoon there] is both a spider (in its web, with multiple legs and compound eyes) and also a human being (much wounded, and treated with a variety of bandagings and medical devices, not to mention speaking English and having considerable knowledge of our culture.


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