Language Acquisition: A Government-Subsidized Model—Carol A. Miller Ps. Q. Vol XVI, No 2 Contents Pitfalls in Second Language Pedagogy—Douglas S. Files

New Directions in the Teaching
of Human Languages to Non-Humans

For almost forty years modern Western language researchers have been attempting to determine whether any non-humans can learn human language. Convinced as usual of the superiority of their own “science” to the “superstitious shamanism” of non-Western cultures, these so-called scientists completely ignored earlier valuable work in this same field and so from the beginning crucially handicapped their own efforts. For just as modern phoneticists often ignore the texts of Panini and so end up with ridiculous theories, likewise do the misguided souls working with apes and dolphins ignore the readily available texts compiled by Buddhist monks on efforts to teach Chinese to Tibetan yeti.

The bias of Western “science” is plain to any observer. Not only do most Westerners call yeti by the derogatory name “Abominable Snowmen;” there are some closed-minded bigots who go so far as to claim that yeti are mythical! The basis of this claim is that very few Westerners have seen yeti; implicit in the argument is that the indigenous human inhabitants of the Himalayas, not being Westerners, are hence not trustworthy. A non-prejudiced analyst, realizing that the local people are obviously best qualified to report on local conditions, accepts the universal report of Himalayan residents that yeti do exist. Further it is certain that while yeti are not human, they are far more similar to humans in mind and culture than are any of the great apes. If Western “science” were not so illogically hostile to the age-old wisdom of the East, it would have seen from the beginning that the best non-human candidates for human language learning are yeti, not apes and dolphins. Certainly, given the failure of ape and dolphin projects, only a muleheaded ethnocentrist could deny that it is time to eat some humble pie and embark on research that could actually be meaningful.

Yet we must not think that we are the first to travel down this path. We must not think that we alone have found the truth, and that now we can travel into a great uncharted field of research. To do so would be to be guilty once again of the sin of ethnocentrismfor we would be ignoring the possibility, nay, the probability, nay, the near certainty that enlightened Eastern scholars had preceded us. For certainly no one could ever accuse any Eastern culture of ethnocentrism (especially not the Chinese). Thus it stands to reason that the great, noble, broad-minded, pluralistic peoples of the East carefully researched the possibility of teaching the man-like yeti to speak. But they did not perform this task in the patronizing fashion familiar in the West. They did not treat the yeti as lesser creatures, as savages to be taught a higher culture, but as entirely relevant and completely equal creatures with a lifestyle alternative to man’s, but far from inferior. Thus the fair-minded scholars of the East were even able to accept the marked anthropophagic tendencies of yeti, and thoughtfully allowed the yeti to maintain this aspect of their culture without fear of prosecution under rigid “moralistic” laws.

Such were the enlightened characteristics of yeti language research in the golden age of human science. These facts about procedure are recorded in the fragmentary 10th-century text known as Neìge dà bá’i rén shwō Jūnggwo hwà, which translates as Preliminary Report of the Imperial Yeti Language Intercultural Understanding Project. There are several copies of this text readily available in easily accessible cities such as Lhasa and Aksu, leaving no excuse for ignorance of the work among Westerners. In brief, remaining fragments of the text seem to tell of the experiments conducted by two Buddhist monks sent by the Chinese emperor to test the feasibility of establishing intercultural contacts with the yeti. Apparently the emperor hoped that if he could get the yeti to learn Chinese he could enlist them to fight in his armies, where their large size and natural ferocity would have been very useful. As far as can be told from the fragments we have, the yeti made rapid progress not only in speaking but in writing, mathematics, and snowball fights. Among the more interesting bits of data is that a certain yeti, intrigued by Chinese logography but somewhat displeased by its complexity, developed a phonemic writing transcription which the monks termed “marvelous, but unlikely to go over very well with the emperor, whose brother owns a school that makes a lot of money by taking twenty years to teach people to write.” In fact, the emperor came to be disillusioned with the entire project when he discovered that the yeti refused to fight for any nation which had not yet “abolished the outdated capitalist system and replaced the oppressiveness of the ruling class with the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Soon after the yeti viewpoint was made clear to him, the emperor withdrew funding for the project, citing “fiscal constraints beyond our control.” Sadly, the two dedicated researchers packed their bags and started home.

Although they did not have time to complete their work, these two pioneers did much to lay a foundation for future work. Indeed, further research along similar lines was carried out over the next seven hundred years by numbers of dedicated true scientists. The results of their efforts were recorded and printed throughout the intellectually advanced East. However, the advent of the Europeans, with their narrow interest in industrial achievement and their rabid desire for conquest and exploitation, put an end to the long tradition of yeti language research. Most of the relevant texts were lost or severely damaged when the Westerners burned the temple libraries of the East, calling them “storehouses of diabolical knowledge.” Yet enough remains that today, finally recognizing the value of Eastern science, we can use these texts as a basis for truly valuable work in the teaching of human language to other species.

Tim Pulju Michigan State University

Language Acquisition: A Government-Subsidized Model—Carol A. Miller
Pitfalls in Second Language Pedagogy—Douglas S. Files
Ps. Q. Vol XVI, No 2 Contents