Dialogue, language, learning LO25366

From: Don Dwiggins (d.l.dwiggins@computer.org)
Date: 09/24/00

Replying to LO25332 --

Leo Minnigh writes:
> Last weekend there was an interesting article in our newspaper about a 23
> year old parot, called Alex. Alex learned with limited vocabulary context
> and meaning of words, is able to use abstract meanings in the right
> context, could count, recognises differences and similarities between
> objects. But the 'language-creativity' of Alex is limited: Alex has
> 'invented' only one new word. Possibly this inventing new words is an
> aspect and sign of the 'level' of creativity of a person. Is any research
> done in this direction?

I remember reading about some work with a gorilla who was similarly taught
to use sign language. After tasting something spicy, she spontaneously
called it "cry-hurt-food".

In my own profession (software), new terms are invented by the community
on a regular basis (recent examples: client-server, 3-tier thin client and
of course, knowledge management). I've been fascinated to see the common
pattern of development of the terms. At first there's a growing awareness
that there's "something there", then someone invents a term that catches
on, but still without a common consensus on a clear meaning. (The early
phase of an emergence?)

Of course, there's always a certain amount of "linguistic aggression" and
"linguistic marketing" that goes on: seem to have a handle on the term,
and you can get some people to pay you to tell them what it means ("you
can fool some of the people some of the time, and that's enough to make a

However, unless the term is all hype and no content, there's also a body
of serious work, both theoretical and practical, that gradually creates a
common meaning for the term. (The digestive phase that "captures" the

I'll make a bold claim: you can tell a learning organization (or the
degree of organizational learning going on) by observing the processes by
which new terms arise and are adopted (and eventually die out, but that's
another story). Anyone want to take me on, or comment on "the corporate

Best to all,


Don Dwiggins "It fills my head with ideas, SEI Information Technology but I don't quite know what they are!" d.l.dwiggins@computer.org -- Alice, after hearing Jabberwocky

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