chapter  3
13 Pages

Language: A model archetype

We like to pretend that we are not really animals, for “they” have instincts while “we” have language, culture and free will. William James vigorously denied this cultural assumption more than a century ago: “[N]o other mammal, not even the monkey, shows so large an array” of instincts as “the human species” (James 1890: 737). Instincts (archetypes) give us the capacity to learn some things rather than others, to learn some things more quickly and easily than others, and to learn some things at some times and other things at other times. If an instinct is an unconscious tendency, universal in a species, that makes us do things even when we do not know why, language is surely one of them; for it unleashes an amazing cascade of effects quite suddenly around the age of three years. What amazes us about language and tempts us to deny its instinctual nature is the fi ne instrument we can make of it. But at bottom, it is an instinct and an archetype like any other. Language is an “innately guided behavior.” For just as bees are innately guided to fl owers but have to learn the details of their local blooms, so we are innately guided to pay attention to vocabulary, grammar, and syntax (Aitchison 2000: ix). To say that language is an archetype rather than an instinct is to emphasize the “apprehending” and purposive aspect of language. From our earliest babblings to our most eloquent rhetoric, we are innately guided to pay attention to nuance. Pull is not the same as bull; and cracked is considerably less than shattered, though both are broken.