Thanks to Andrew Freer for pointing out to me that the BBC has published an article in connection with its Horizon documentary about "unlocking the mysteries of speech" (they have the usual tendency to confuse talk about language and talk about speech). Simon Kirby remarked to me this morning about the documentary (which I have not seen: Barbara and I do not have TV set):
From the point of view of an insider, it was quite bizarre in some respects. The editors pulled off the frankly extraordinary feat of making it seem that everyone in the field of language evolution basically agrees. That's quite an astonishing achievement. The way they managed to do this in part was by not including any explanation of why our experiment behaves the way it does. All I appear to do is describe what happens and marvel at the wonder of it all.
I promise you that I didn't forget to explain carefully exactly why it happens, and the implications of this for our understanding of language. I guess this got cut because it meant telling a more complex story where we don't all agree. I can appreciate the decision to produce a different kind of narrative, and perhaps they are right to do so. Better a clear story that isn't as rich as the full picture, than a confused audience, they probably thought.
We know, here at Language Log, that if ever you were exposed to a disagreement in linguistic science you would immediately become so confused you would start bumping into the furniture, so we try to shelter you from any hint of discord. Not.
Would any UK Language Log readers like to comment on the program? Comments are open.