Shortcuts: Labeling (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

Recently, Fleur and I have been having debates on the proper label for some pictures. I call them whales whereas she calls them sharks because they look like the animations from Baby Shark. Instead of a post about that, I decided to repost this series.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Homo Sapiens Sapiens cheated evolution in one critical way by creating language. Rather than rely totally on instincts passed along by genes, we pass along an enormous amount of information to our proteges through memes. These may not even be the descendants of our genes. In working together on something, we share enormous amounts of information.

Everything including physical objects, ideas, and behaviors all have a label. Sometimes more than one. A label is a way of identifying something without having to go into the gory details of explaining it every time. (Like I just did.) I can call something an “apple” and anyone who understand this word knows what I mean. Labels bring efficiency to language. Until it does not.

Framing and metaphors are a couple of the tools behind labels. Through them labels acquire properties which then influence how we think. We can be manipulated by these thoughts simply by others choosing one label or the other. A great experiment has test takers write random number at the top. The larger the number, the better the test takers did on the test. How a question is phrased in a poll skews the responses. When we use metaphors also we constrain our thinking. Using the metaphor of a clockwork universe makes us think of mechanical devices and how everything around us are such devices.

Maybe English is a special case. Between Frisian (the ancestral language that make English belong to the Germanic family) and French from the Norman Invasion, English has multiple words for things. Throw in the Melting Pot that is the United States with making up jargon for everything. This language is an absurd mixture of strange meanings. Certain words like “set” have so many definitions one needs to hear or read it in context to understand it.

Then we also have LABELS. LABELS are also labels but have the special nature of how we classify other people. They are how we split people up into groupings to say one is not like another. White vs Black. Extrovert vs Introvert. East Coast vs West Coast. Democrat vs Republican. All are arbitrary. Many are misunderstood. They drift into caricature stereotypes causing hurt. This is where our -Isms arise. Nationalism, racism, or sexism would have no place without powerfully overly broad LABELS. As our conversations become more mature, we need more and more LABELS to express the nuances even while others resist change.

We need labels in order to communicate with each other. We just need to recognize their fallibility. And somehow avoid hurting each other while expressing ourselves.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Rage Against the Parents

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Language acquisition is hard on a toddler. Fleur knows what she wants. It is a matter of getting me, the parent, to understand.

And dealing with the frustration when I fail to get it. In true toddler fashion there are moments where there is pulling at me while vocalizing displeasure because I am not doing the right thing or not the thing in the right way.

Then maybe I figure it out and we are both happy.

Or maybe she improves the pronunciation / enunciation or pick an easier term to pronounce. And we are both happy.

My personal favorite is when Fleur improves the pronunciation or enunciation. It shows problem solving through experimentation. Okay, far too often I feign ignorance just to see if she will try. I want her to work through how to manipulate me through communication. After all, persuasion is why we have the big brains we do. And language acquisition is how we persuade.

Head of household

As Fleur develops language skills, she puts them to very practical uses. She asks for snacks, articles of clothing, and people. Of late, though, that also entails directives. Orders.

Daddy, eat!
Daddy, sit!
Daddy, [throw this] away!

I fear our interactions with the ever listening Big Sister have encouraged this style of direction. The first directives were aimed at it. The “Meow” the cat. Then Galahad. Of late, that has included the parents.

Ah, well, at least she is getting me to eat my oatmeal in the morning.

Baby cadence

The baby babble took an interesting turn with these monologues that remind me of… well, there is no good way to say it… but, I really don’t want to… so, here goes… Hitler.

She has the cadence down. The cadence sounds German and very, very passionate about whatever it is that is the subject of her monologue.

English is at its core a Germanic language. It is named for the Angles who were a Germanic tribe who migrated to the island that is now the home of England. Another major influence comes from the Saxons who were another Germanic tribe. Frisian provided yet another Germanic influence. William the Conqueror brought a French influence so the royal court spoke it while the commoners spoke English, but eventually, the two merged into modern English.

Guess this makes me wonder if most English speaking kids go through an oratory phase like this? Or is this cadence thing more universal such that all kids speak something similar?

120 bits a day for native language acquisition

Some researchers at U. Rochester and U. Cal. Berkeley attempted to estimate how much information a child learns to acquire a native language.

To put our lower estimate in perspective, each day for 18 years a child must wake up and remember, perfectly and for the rest of their life, an amount of information equivalent to the information in this sequence:

0110100001101001011001000110010001100101
0110111001100001011000110110001101101111
0111001001100100011010010110111101101110

Even at the lower end, it suggests the presence of mechanisms in the brain that help in language acquisition. I guess a question I have is what is the threshold for there not to be one? (The upper end is almost 2,000 bits a day.)

And we are talking about every bit here being new information.  Similar to the Five Books a Day post, these are NEW bits every day.

The amounts are staggering to me. And it strikes me how impressively children learn about the world, categorize the data, and synthesize it into information. The challenge as a parent is to ensure the child gets enough exposure to acquire all this data.

Kid jokes

I love reading about the incongruity of the kids of friends. Part of why I started this is in hopes of reporting on the best of Fleur’s. The Atlantic has a good article “Knock Knock. Who’s There? Kids. Kids Who? Kids Tell Terrible Jokes.“:

“Even when their parents are feeding them ‘dad jokes’ to try to teach them about humor, half of the jokes that kids hear, they don’t quite get.” So it’s only natural, Dubinsky says, for some children to believe that a couple of absurd or mismatched concepts assembled into a familiar “knock-knock” or “What do you call …” structure adds up to a joke.

“Kids say, ‘Oh, jokes are about incongruity. I’ll show you some incongruity,’” Dubinsky says. “But they haven’t got the sophistication to construct an incongruity that’s going to be resolvable.”

Which, coincidentally, sometimes results in jokes that resemble a more advanced form of humor: an “anti-joke.” Anti-jokes deliberately deny the audience a clever or satisfying punch line, and they often serve as edgy or sophisticated commentary on jokes themselves.

Poor Fleur will suffer from “dad jokes.” She already hears them. She just has no idea she is inundated with them. And I love me some incongruity. So much of my attention is analyzing rules from social behavior to code to business process rules. I am always interested in the how and why to tease out mismatches to learn from them. Maybe that is why I love “dad jokes” so much?