Why do we guffaw or weep, chortle or bawl?

Laughter and tears don’t just show emotion; they’re forms of communication. And these signs of joy or grief may have developed along with our capacity for empathy and a theory of mind. How does this tie in with language?

Linguist Daniel Midgley gets emotional on this episode of Talk the Talk.

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Emotional states — and emotional displays — were important precursors to language. Curious that humans aren’t the only ones to laugh, but they are the only ones to cry. Why and how? Well, Ben and I discuss the whole thing on this episode of Talk the Talk. There’s a lot more laughing than crying, you’ll notice.

I’m not sure how this happened, but I think we committed ourselves to a dinner date with the highest bidder. It’ll be the week of Radiothon. I suppose we’d better lay down some ground rules: it’s only open to people within the Perth area, and let’s keep it platonic, mm-kay?

Show notes

Laughter helps manage pain, especially in groups.

Robin Dunbar thinks language (and laughter) emerged as a stand-in for grooming.

Laughter started out as something physical, but with language, it could become social.

Michael Arbib says that language started because we were able to first understand, then imitate, the gestures of others. (PDF link)

Kamala cried when her sister died.

Crying served as a means of social communication before language.

It’s a sign of distress, and a plea for compassion

How do they write ‘ha ha’ in other languages?

Show tunes

‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’ by Morrissey
from the album Your Arsenal

‘Cry’ by the Sundays
from the album Static and Silence
Here’s a beautiful live version.