Even Indo-European could perhaps have a related first person singular pronoun. English "I" descends from Proto-Germanic "ik", "ek" (source of German "ich"), which descends from Proto-Indo-European "eg-" (source of Latin "ego", Greek "εγω"). It's not unreasonable that "eg-" could be a descendent of an earlier form "ŋ-". That would be closer to such a form than Mandarin 我 wǒ /wɔ/, which looks so dissimilar to ŋa that it would be difficult to see that the Mandarin form descends from the Sino-Tibetan form without the evidence from related Chinese languages (e.g., Cantonese /ŋɔ/).

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Feb 23Liked by Andrew Cutler

"This group would have spoken the same language, from which the extant languages descend"

Just to give a contrary linguistic opinion on this, we don't actually know that the group that crossed the Bering Strait spoke a single language - that's entirely speculative. It's entirely possible two or more linguistic groups crossed the strait at the same time (or perhaps more likely in short succession to one another - instead of a single migration, it could be two or more smaller migrations potentially hundreds of years apart).

We also don't know that all families in the Americas date from the initial migration(s) to the Americas. The Na-Dené family at the very least has been suspected to be a much more recent migration, even by Greenberg himself (and the Dené-Yeniseian hypothesis may be evidence of this, although it has also been suggested that Yeniseian, if it is indeed related to Na-Dené, was actually the result of a back migration across Beringia). We also know the Eskaleut family (aka Eskimo-Aleut or Inuit-Yupik-Unangam) is a much more recent arrival, probably around 4000 years or less.

It's important to note that while gene flow can be used as an assistive tool to help track the movement of prehistoric languages, it is not perfect, as groups may end up adopting the speech of unrelated groups even with only a small amount of genetic flow between the two.

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Feb 23Liked by Andrew Cutler

Altaic: *mi

*《The hypothetical language family has long been rejected by most comparative linguists, although it continues to be supported by a small but stable scholarly minority.》


*But 1sg pronouns have 'n' consonant in almost every turkic languages.

Turkish= ben

Kazakh = men

Sakha = min


* Korean language

First person = 저 (jeo), 나 (na)


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Another wild adventure. Begs for follow up reading. Excellent work!

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Aug 21Liked by Andrew Cutler

I was idly thinking given French on and British English one used to mean I, can we bring Proto Indo European into the fold via *Hoi-no, one. They don't call it the FIRST person singular for nothing.

Uneasy about the low probability argument. It's a trite observation that 100 heads from 100 coin tosses is no less likely than any other given specified sequence, it's just that it is self-specifying. Or something - it's harder than it looks to explain when it is or isn't legitimate to say OMG what are the odds of that? I can think of a couple of 7 or 8 member genuinely coincidental letter sequences - the continents except Europe (still a vowel) and the leading British horse trials at Blair, Badminton, Burghley, Blenheim, Burgham, Bicton and Barbury (and, OK, chatsworth)

From my own n=2 experience the first wordlike sound babies make is da which I imagine fathers have coopted as Ooh look he recognises his daddy. An innate tendency to associate the na sound with I is quite plausible.

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Jul 3·edited Jul 3Liked by Andrew Cutler

Interesting. My mother tongue is Hungarian, where the 1sg is 'én', which does contain the 'n' sound. But the 2sg is 'te', which is quite far from the sound 'm'.

Futhermore, Hungarian has no linguistic gender whatsoever: so much so that the 3sg is 'ő', which doesn't convey the sex of the referent: the listener has to know that from some other source. But my understanding is that this is the case with Turkic languages (with which Hungarian apparently has lots of commonality).

Also regarding animate-inanimate distinction: the only case where something similar features in Hungarian (at least which comes to mind to me) is the 3sg: as mentioned before, when the referent is a human person, it is 'ő', but for any other referent (animate or inanimate) it is 'az' (for entities further away; for ones closer to the speaker, it is 'ez').

I'm telling you all this only to throw further confusion into the discussion. :-P

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May 15Liked by Andrew Cutler

> where instead of mindvector (a name) the actor-word started out as a title, such as “father” or “mother”. Therefore “Nana go this way”, eventually became our worldwide friend na.

Isn't that, together with nana/mama having been converged on for voice-mechanical reasons, a perfectly sufficient explanation for independent 1sg convergence?

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I would push back some. You consistently state that self-consciousness and a first person pronoun would have evolved simultaneously. This is not necessarily obvious. Necessarily, self consciousness would have needed to exist *before* terms referring to it emerged. Secondly, the pronouns may have been an innovation, and most languages may have used a system similar to modern Japanese, where people often use their own name to refer to themselves, and their partner's name instead of a second person pronoun. Replacing this name system with pronouns may have instead been the innovation which spread like wildfire.

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This stuff is deliciously insane. I'm not sure how much credence I should be giving this thesis, but this sure is entertaining and thought-provoking! I can't get it out of my head now!

One thing that's occurred to me: have you considered how this stuff may relate to hypnosis? Presumably, if consciousness is more about software than hardware and triggerable, maybe it is still reversible? Maybe hypnosis is people tricking other people's brains into thinking that their voice is the brain's own auditory hallucination telling it what to do?

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Apr 26Liked by Andrew Cutler


Wow! What a fascinating read. I rapidly consumed this and all your other posts on recursion and the snake cult of consciousness. Just such fun stuff and wonderful to have my mind bend a little bit as the threads came together. I shared your Substack with a friend of mine who has a phd in philosophy and he was intrigued as well. He suggested I read ‘the first person’ by Elizabeth Anscombe. I find her arguments about "self" contained therein to be quite reinforcing, from a philosophical perspective, of what you are getting at from a linguistic perspective in this post. I would guess you have read it already, but if not, you can access it here: https://ifac.univ-nantes.fr/IMG/pdf/Anscombe-The_First_Person.pdf

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Apr 23Liked by Andrew Cutler

I don't know much about the linguistics here, but I want to point out that you skip over a possible explanation as to how unrelated languages might converge on 'n' that's different from how they converge on 'mama'/'papa': perhaps there is some other sense, intrinsic to either the universe or to how the human body is constructed, which makes "n" sounds appropriate for 1sg. I don't particularly believe this as I can't imagine how it would work in detail, but it's still worth keeping around as a possible explanation.

A sketch of how it might work is: there is some 'shape' in neuronal activations in the brain that corresponds to "I" in an entirely pre-language sense (maybe it could also be detected in other animals? perhaps in the other primates that understand what they're seeing in mirrors?), and this shape, like, is somehow mechanically related to the neuronal activation required to make an 'n' sound. Or perhaps the correlation is even more abstraction, such as existing entirely in mathematical space: the "I" concept as a program in thought-space is topologically similar to the "n" sound in vocal-chord-activation-space, or something.

This is very much a "just saying" comment, I have no idea how you would even tell if it's plausible or insane... but it seems to me that it should stick around as a possible theory unless there's really a way to discard it.

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"nor does it correspond to any Paradox or Revolution that perplexes other fields."

Wrong. Fall of bicameral mind corresponds with axial age and tableware.

"Another issue is that he doesn’t provide a mechanism of self-discovery."

Rise of infectious disease load (corresponding to the plagues of Egypt).

Remember, consciousness needs calories. Europeans in the 19th century frequently suggested the Northern Chinese of their day had no consciousness.

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Get on the network -the bicameral mind is a product of human posture:


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As I've gotten more curious about id/ego/superego after reading Snake Cult, I came across this bit from Wikipedia which seems very relevant to the connection between pronouns and recursive sapience.

> Freud himself used the German terms das Es, Ich, and Über-Ich, which literally translate as "the it", "I", and "over-I". The Latin terms id, ego and super-ego were chosen by his original translators and have remained in use.

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There's a lot of room for studying convergence through the lens of biology. Assuming that the tongue, diaphragm and vocal cords of humans for 50,000 years were functionally identical over time it could be that the similarities in language were due to convergence from optimization constraints. In other words peoples over time separately arrived at the same linguistic norms because physical biology only allows so many ways to optimize.

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ChatGPT responds to questions with "I" answers, though, often like "Sorry, I can't answer that as I am just an AI, a tool for humans..." How do we differentiate?

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