TED Conversations

Jennifer Ball

Professor of English "Speaking and Listening", Soochow University, Suzhou, China

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Females mammals are the underpinning of written language. Sex & sexism exists in every literate culture, so why wouldn't it be in language?

姦 (three females) has meant "adultery, wicked" for 4,000 years in China. What else has this kind of track record? But China isn't the only sexist culture. The characters "B" and "V" swap sounds in seven different languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Russian, and English), most likely because females produce milk and offspring after being impregnated. Using a Darwinian lens to look at all scripts, one sees a pattern of female mammals being at the root of written language. Keith Chen examines language for its ability to predict economic behavior. He also wrote a paper on monkeys paying for sex after having the concept of money introduced to them. Prostitution is an ancient concept. If there is sex everywhere, why wouldn't it be in language? The fact that we live in euphemism is evident in the insistence that the name of Hooter's "breastaurants" is a reference to owls' eyes, not big-breasted women. When one examines all scripts, a pattern based on fertility, dominance, and sex appears. If this topic pisses you off, keep in mind that psychiatrists tell us that the thing that rankles us the most is typically the thing that is the most accurate, and this is why it gets under our skin. We like to believe we are above animals. We like to believe that Chinese is pictures and the alphabet is not. We alphabet-users are elitist. The alphabet has just simplified faster. Humans have the same drivers. Consider that Noah's Ark is the world's first sex education (the animals went two by two) and was first recorded 5,500 years ago in Sumerian cuneiform in "Gilgamesh," the world's first story. Early Christians plagiarized this tale, not knowing we would eventually be able to decode Sumerian. I have read over 100 books, I have had 30,000 readers on my website, and I am now in China teaching English at Soochow University to 102 nanotechnology students. I have studied Mandarin for three years, and I just gave a talk at Roche Pharmaceuticals Shanghai. OriginofAlphabet.com


Closing Statement from Jennifer Ball

It is not my intention to offend with my assertion that the images of female mammals are visible in all written languages. I suspect that the strong feelings shown here are indicative of why we don't know more about the roots of language. I was hoping for an enlightened discussion on the TED site, and I am saddened that so many comments degenerated into character attacks. The fact this idea could provoke so much vehemence tells me I'm on the right track, but it is a lonely pursuit. I'm reminded of why I moved to China because here the role of females in language is recognized. The woman radical is all over Hanzi, so it is an undeniable fact that females are key to Chinese script. The elitism of Western culture makes many say, "Well, Chinese is pictures, but the alphabet is not." However, the alphabet is pictures too. (For example, "G" is recognized as a throwing stick.) Comparing all early scripts for their similarities seems like an obvious idea, but I have not yet found a university where this is possible. The Linguistics department is usually quite far from the East Asian Languages on most campuses. If anyone knows where I can pursue this research, please inform me. I would love to talk to well-educated, open-minded individuals. Where are the kind intellectuals who love unique ideas rather than hackneyed pablum? I would love to meet you. Please feel free to contact me through this site or my website, www.OriginofAlphabet.com. I have had a total of 35,000 readers on my site (which includes my two Scribd accounts). I am searchable on Scribd, Facebook, Quora, Linked In, Researchgate, and YouTube. As I am data driven, I welcome any coherent suggestions that would enable me to find others who really want to know how language evolved by using structural analyses coupled with dictionaries and lexicons. Thank you TED talks for fostering an environment where these ideas can even be discussed.

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    Apr 9 2013: I have to admit, the anger shown on this site is quite astounding. Do you see how many people I have responded to in a very short time? I count 16 in two days. And no one has yet pointed out a typo that I have written (and you know they would if they could). I have written a lot of words, posted a lot of data, and you want to insult me simply because you don't like my theory? It's a THEORY! Thank god the internet didn't exist when Darwin took his grandfather's theory and presented it to the world. No wonder he waited 15 years, and even then his friends had to present it for him. You must hate women with opinions. What is making you so mad? Do you hate your life? Perhaps you should see someone professionally instead of chastising people for being human enough to admit that they sometimes make mistakes. You can't refute what I'm saying, so you write snide comments. My husband told me there are only two types of people who write on websites like this: angry people, and angry religious people. Roll your eyes until you're dizzy. You don't scare me. I did stand-up comedy. I've been up in a hot air balloon. I've scuba dived. I'm in China for a year, and I don't hang out with people who speak my language because I want to learn Mandarin. I have taught refugees English in Oakland for no money. I play in a rock band that throws finger puppets at people. What do you do to help the world? Grow up and model the behavior you want to see because you appear to be extremely unhappy. Perhaps if you helped others you might feel better about yourself. I love the TED videos. I show them to my 102 students who think I'm the best English teacher they've ever had, and they've had English instruction for 11 years. I think you're jealous that someone has an original idea and you can't stop me from presenting it to the world. Go do something positive; take your hands off the keyboard for a moment to realize that you are going to end up a very sad individual if this is how you spend your time.
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      Apr 9 2013: Jennifer,
      I agree with you...."the anger shown on this site is quite astounding", and it appears to be coming mostly from you. Take a look at your comments. Re-read your comment above. By my count, 10 people have responded to you on this site, and the rest are all your posts, filled with inaccurate information, accusations and anger. You have indeed written "a lot of words", as you say. I personally, still cannot figure out what you are trying to express, and what topic you are honestly trying to discuss, even though I've read all your comments.

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