Thumbs, Purring Hyoids, and Zsa Zsa Gabor

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December 28, 2016 by libroshombre

We should feed our cat “as much as it will eat in thirty minutes, twice a day,” says a book titled “Rules of Thumb,” by Tom Parker. The authority he cites is a gardener named Ronald Newberry who submitted it to Parker, so don’t bet the ranch on it. My cat doubtlessly agrees, according to Ronald Eklund’s Purring.org webpage, which is dedicated to “summarizing what is known about (mostly) felid purring, i.e. the ‘trademark’ sound produced by most species of cats, only excluding four or five of the biggest cats, the so-called ‘roaring’ cats (lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard).”

Eklund states that big cats have hyoid bones in their necks that are only partially ossified, so they can only roar, while smaller cats’ hyoids are completely ossified, thereby allowing purring but no roaring. Eklund claims a PhD, but it’s always best to get multiple sources, and a crosscheck with Wikipedia revealed that raccoons also purr, as do “mongoose, bears, badgers, hyaenas, rabbits, squirrels, guinea pigs, tapirs, ring-tailed lemurs, and gorillas while eating.”

Rather than dwelling on purring grizzlies, consider recent research into the concepts dolphins use while conversing. A Telegraph.co.uk article by Sarah Knapton, titled “Dolphins Recorded Having a Conversation ‘Just Like Two People’ For the First Time,” reported that a new type of underwater microphone allows researchers to distinguish between different dolphins’ voices. They’ve learned that “dolphins alter the volume and frequency of pulsed clicks to form individual ‘words’ which they string together unto sentences much the same way that humans speak.”

Moreover dolphins have “possessed brains that are larger and more complex than human ones for more than 25 million years,” and “in 2007 Australian scientists identified specific whistles which were interpreted to mean, ‘I’m here; where is everyone,’ ‘Hurry up,’ and ‘There’s food here.’ Dolphins are also thought to have developed a type of sign language in which they communicate using their flippers.”

!Xoon, the human language used by South African bushmen, has “the largest sound inventory of any tongue in the world,” according to a recent NYTimes.com article by Bryant Rousseau. While English employs 45 consonants and vowels, !Xoon, which also includes a variety of clicks, “has as many as 164 consonants and 44 vowels.” These include “the dental click” (“something like the ‘tut-tut’ Sound English speakers make”), “the lateral click” (“like the sound equestrians make to communicate with horses”), and even “the bilabial click” (“made with both lips”). “Languages that use clicks can pack a lot of information into brief words,” Rousseau wrote, “expressing in a single syllable concepts that require three or more syllables in English. However, “it is difficult to whisper them.”

This contrasts with other studies showing that humans worldwide might be utilizing much of the same language. A MedicalNewsToday.com article from last September cited Cornell University research that “found a strong statistical relationship between certain basic concepts and the sound of the words used to describe them … For instance, earlier studies showed that words for smaller objects are more likely to contain high-pitched sounds.” Another related Telegraph.co.uk article by Sarah Knapton cited the same study said “in most languages, the word for ‘nose’ is likely to include the sounds ‘neh’ or the ‘oo’ sound, as in ‘ooze.’ Similarly, the word for ‘leaf’ is likely to include the sounds ‘l,’ ‘p,’ or ‘b,’ while ‘sand’ will probably use the sound ‘s.’ … Other words found to contain similar sounds across thousands of languages include ‘bite, ‘dog,’ ‘fish,’ ‘skin,’ ‘star,’ and ‘water.’”

Fortunately, our public library’s collection includes foreign language works of literature, films, music, as well as has foreign language databases, CDs and other instructional materials, including “Pronunciator,” an online language learning program with lessons in 80 languages and ESL courses in 50 languages, but not !Xoon. “Pronunciator is not merely the world’s largest language-learning service, with 3,000 available courses,” its site boasts, “it is also the most inclusive, using universal pictograms that are culture-neutral and language-neutral.”

            Learning !Xoon might require matrimony, according to the late Zsa Zsa Gabor, a noted authority, who said “The only way to learn a language properly, in fact, is to marry a man of that nationality. You get what they call in Europe a ‘sleeping dictionary.’”

 

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