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.
http://www.oxfordscibar.com/laughing-away-the-pain.html

Robin Dunbar thinks language (and laughter) emerged as a stand-in for grooming.
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~grace/dunbar.html

Laughter started out as something physical, but with language, it could become social.
http://phys.org/news/2013-03-laughter.html

Michael Arbib says that language started because we were able to first understand, then imitate, the gestures of others. (PDF link)
http://goldin-meadow-lab.uchicago.edu/courses/psyc43700/03_Apr9/arbib_plus_comments%20bbs_copy.pdf

Kamala cried when her sister died.
http://books.google.com.au/books?id=PgWVdizyDK0C&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=amala+kamala+%22cried%22&source=bl&ots=1LZBG_gkwW&sig=tu4eiLYNI25yenl6qBKKC6ay8vc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GjxZUfKcIcmSiAf-6IGgCQ&ved=0CEMQ6AEwAg#v=snippet&q=amala%20kamala&f=false

Crying served as a means of social communication before language.
http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/14036/20130201/why-humans-cry-scientist-tears-served-means.htm

It’s a sign of distress, and a plea for compassion
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-humans-like-to-cry

How do they write ‘ha ha’ in other languages?
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/12/55555-or-how-to-laugh-online-in-other-languages/266175/


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.