So I have a (non-scientific) theory that grammar nazis are merely acting out one of the many prejudices that humans have a proclivity for. I wouldn't be surprised if--at some neurological level associated with language centers--humans pay extra attention and have special, personal interest in "perfecting" their communication skills and applying pressure on others to conform.

Language standards at one time must have been by far the most explosively effective means of trading knowledge and ideas, even when we only had a tiny fraction of the words and concepts we have today. It seems today language and language rules are mostly just taken for granted, now that their use is so vast and pervasive. I think it's hard to appreciate what it must have been like in the beginning.

Similar to strong attraction to (and even affection for) language, language rules, and silver tongues, I think perhaps early music was a way of enjoying the newest "rules" of voice and rhythm, and (later) storytelling. Just the enjoyment itself of music may or may not have had personal benefit, but even more significant was probably the bonding that took place among people while singing together, eventually with more and more physical body language and dance. (Does this sound too corny? I'm talking about this bonding happening around campfires even, after cooking a great meal after a great hunt.) Noticing who was the "sexiest" singer and/or dancer may have even led to sexual selection and (therefore) led to procreation selected for these new, human traits.

One benefit of just learning to bond and learn and communicate basic feelings and thoughts with each other was a new kind of cooperation on a massive scale that could extend into communal hunting and gathering activities. Just paying attention to each others' faces and body language cues, and being able to infer what each other might be thinking and wanting must have been a HUGE leap in human evolution (mostly cultural by now, but still partly genetic).

Yet in a different way, slightly rebellious language and music perhaps went along with breaking from the crowd/tribe when it was possible to expand and move out, away from the group. There is still a subcultural aspect to language and music that bonds like-minded people together, and it can enhance (for better or worse) the separation of one group from another. (I have a theory about the Taliban's ban on music I'll save for later.)

The social maturation phase of one's personal life is when language and musical preferences are subject to the most significant adaptation and imbedding into one's (mostly permanent) personality. I don't think this is coincidental. (I'll leave a related discussion of tribalistic/personal, physical identity features and behaviors like piercings, tattoos, etc for another time.)

Again, this is all non-scientific observation on my part, but it came about while wondering why people feel so strongly about particular language behaviors, or why they have such stubborn musical tastes. I remember growing up under peer pressures to conform to the local accent, or be made fun of. I remember (and still often feel) that some people sound dumb or stupid to me, just because of their accent or musical taste. That's why I use the word "snobbery" in the title of this discussion.

To summarize, I'll bet that language snobbery and strong musical preferences are vestiges of a human need during the beginnings of culture to agree on and enforce rules of communication, and to bond socially, both unconsciously and explicitly. This was even a selectable trait as sexually maturing tribal/community members could compete for the most popular/sexiest singer/dancer.

I'm aware of the extreme lack of evidence, but hope there are still some interesting ideas to kick around. Is there at least an interest here to speculate on what life might have been like, back then?

Tags: culture, evo-psych, evolution, language, music, prejudice, sexual selection, tribal behavior

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I suppose I could be called a grammar Nazi... =\ lol I guess it's because I feel as though all people are equal, regardless of where they are from, how much or little melanin they have, what their sexual orientation is, what their religion is, etc. So if all people are equal to me, and I had the ability to learn proper grammar, and have the ability to continue to use it... shouldn't everyone else? I went to public school. I didn't have any kind of special education so I don't have a leg up on others.

I like your thoughts better though... rather than feeling like it's a personality flaw I have, that I ache to correct people (though most of the time I only correct them in my mind)... I'd like to blame genetics and my ancestry!

You've given me a lot to think about. =]
Yay! Well, I still often feel like I want to correct people, but I try to understand why it so often feels like an emotional urge, above and beyond "by the way" pedantic. For the record, I appreciate corrections, altho (sic) sometimes I'll bend a rule on purpose. :)
The only bad grammar I can 100% overlook... is lolcats... and that's just because they are so cute. Hey, English is their second language after all!
idk...I think its fine unless you are absolutely, ridiculously horrible to the point were no one can understand you.
Yes, by "strong preference" I mean "picky/personal" preferences, e.g. for specific types of music. But back before music was as we now know it, "music" was just tone/inflection of voice and "attitude" added to verbalizations. (Recent music is more of a wild extension of tone of voice and attitude.) There is also a temporal/serial component (or "style") to both language and music (and dance), which is an attribute of higher intelligence. And then there are mellifluous-sounding and rhyming component analogies, but now I've gone too far ahead of myself.

Good question wrt if the more serious language snobs have pickier musical tastes. It sounds strange on the face of it, but I'd like to look into it. There are (at least) obvious cases of prejudice toward ethnic cultures, including mockery of both their lingo and their music, but that doesn't prove a connection.

In both language snobbery and picky musical preferences we were acting on a strong social need to lead the pack, and/or conform and fit into the pack, depending on one's personality. What language and music (theoretically) share is much of the neurocircuitry responsible for memes used for social communication.

Yes, strength of language rule enforcement & musical tastes vary, just as there is normal phenotypic variation in a species. What matters is that preferences (and even competition among them) exist, so that only a few preferences gain standardization/agreement at large.

I'm trying to expose all of us as natural language snobs, including myself. Btw I've tried to think of a better word than "snob" that would make as much sense. "Nazi" is also a strong word, but it's probably good for SEO (Search Engine Optimization)!
Adriana, I like "maven", thanks. Positive, too. I had thought of "elitist" before (without its negative connotation), but it's hard to ignore its negativism.

Thanks for the links. Still reading. Feeling guilty now about indulging in speculation rather than acting more like a scientist, but that's as it should be. :)
This doesn't really relate to you're theory but I really do consider myself a music snob.

As a musician, I have to say I'm sort of a snob because I'm certainly more educated about what goes in to producing music then most people.

For instance, I don't like music that sounds like anyone who knows how to use computer software could make. No matter how catchy it is.

I guess because I play a real instrument and have a certain passion for the tone of vibrating metal and wood.

Let me give an example of a complete fail to me.
I have a friend who goes through hobbies like most people go through changes of cloths.
One day he decided to make his own techno music because he found software and a midi keyboard. This person mind you, had no prior experience with music, didn't know any theory and didn't even understand how pitch works....
well, he fooled around with it for about a month, burnt some samples on some cd's and people actually give him money for them.

Also the lyrics in most rap music...I could certainly live without. I tend not to listen to music about bitches and money.
If you like poetry, I have a question or two for you.

Does rhythm and/or rhyming add to the feeling of profundity and/or beauty? Or, why else is poetry held in such high, literary regard?

Just had a thought. (Guess I haven't read enough books where something like this has already been thought of and written about. So TA is now my think pad. Call me lazy!)

 

But first, a preface. I've noticed in chat rooms how people often misspell their, there, your, you're, etc. It happens much more often in spontaneous chat room environments than in other, less spontaneous mediums. I think this is because the written word doesn't come nearly as naturally as speech does in the auditory/vocal medium. It takes months to learn auditory language, but years to learn written language.

 

Also note the spontaneous creativity of chat room spelling, misspelling, and emoticons. (Ha, I already hear some of y'all cringing. But please, sit back and try to observe this from a neo-cultural perspective, or perhaps even in scientific terms of the evolution of human language and communications.)

 

Here's what I'm getting to. We're all familiar with how it's often easy to misunderstand the tone of a writer, especially in emotion-laden discussions. Likewise, it takes more work to add tone to be understood better. So what I'm thinking now is, isn't tone also a musical attribute? Does it seem as obvious to you (as it does to me, at this moment) that the ability to add tone and mood to our audio communications significantly amplifies its effectiveness?

 

Now I have to read and think more about other components of music besides "tone". And I also wonder if "music" in language was once even more important/effective back when we had a tiny, fledgling vocabulary. This is actually the big question I'm asking, and that's why I think it fits in this topic about the evolution/importance of music and other (possibly "built in") rules (and mores?) of communication.

 

(SHOOT! I have not yet read the Singing Neanderthals, as recommended to me earlier.)

 

Also, I don't mean to ignore body/facial language components of communication. But it seems clear that the musical components alone very significantly add meaning to vocalizations, e.g. as when we're talking on the phone, or in some other way blind to the speaker's visual cues. Hmm, now I'm even wondering if someday some of our emoticons could have some kind of short, musical attachment. Or something like that. Miniature facial snapshots of ourselves, for some words?

 

Ok, I've read several reviews of The Singing Neanderthals, and get the gist of it. Woohoo, it does look like significant food for thought! Albeit with some speculation, of course, as music and language leave few fossils. Here's the best, informative review I've read, so far.

 

And here are two listings (with reviews) at Amazon for the book:

 

 

 

 

Was reading something today and thought "hmm, interesting". But the voice saying it in my head wasn't my own. It was a familiar voice, but I couldn't place it or put a face to it right away. Finally realized a minute later that the voice is the ex-drill sargent psycho-therapist in the Geico commercial.

So I've had this vocal meme in my head, much like a musical earworm. I'll bet they're neurologically related.

Pure speculation, of course.


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