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 10 2013: You seem really angry. Retching (that would be "呕吐/ou3 tu4"in Mandarin; do you know any other languages by the way?) is to touch someone deep inside. I've given all sorts of data. I've provided you with my website, where there is much more data than can be presented here, but you choose to ignore it because the thought that female mammals could be the roots of language is such an anathema to you that you prefer to display the violence that is so common to testosterone-infused animals. We are named "mammals" because of the milk we drink. If one searches "milk" in all languages, a patten of bilateral symmetry can be seen because, as Steven Pinker (cognitive linguist at Harvard) says, "Symmetry is sexy." It shows that the animal is healthy by being able to produce two identical copies of itself. A sign of health is attractive to the opposite sex because it suggests reproductive success. Jared Diamond (UCLA geographer) says that female humans have the largest breast size of any primate. Sexual selection has promoted the size of women's breasts to being larger and higher than other mammals. Considering that we have restaurants devoted to large-breasted women proliferating across several continents, this strikes me as significant. Malcolm Potts (Berkeley obstetrician and reproductive scientist) says that breasts are targets. So are eyes. Both show up extensively in the written record. They are circles with dots in them. It makes them easier to find. I've quoted from many of the books I have read. You provide nonsense. You should ask yourself why does the idea of female mammals being the underpinning of language provoke such a visceral response. The Ancient Egyptians deified the cow, and called her Hathor. A new king would prove that he was chosen by the gods to rule by depicting a picture of himself sucking from the teats of Hathor.

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