Guinea Pigs, Language, and Culture

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Guinea pigs are cute animals, but what do they have to do with language and culture? Not much, unless you watch a video and completely miss the point. 

I was sent a short video on Instagram. A kid, maybe five or six years old, is leading a pack of six guinea pigs through an alleyway. He holds what appears to be a makeshift broom, and the guinea pigs are following behind.

Suddenly, one of the guinea pigs stops. His fellow guinea pigs leave him behind and continue to trail the boy. 

Guinea pigs video

I watch and wait for someone to turn around and rescue him. That’s what’s supposed to happen in animal shorts, right?

Americans who would never eat a pet want the guinea pig to be rescued. But what if you live in a country where guinea pig is a delicacy?  For example, in Peru and parts of Ecuador, roasted guinea pigs are sold in meat markets. And if you happen to like the cute furry animals, then the one left behind is lucky.

Language and Culture are Connected

Language does not happen in a vacuum. To prevent these types of misunderstandings, some have advocated for a universal language. Esperanto and its antecedent, volapuk, are attempts to avoid confusion between people. The founder and followers of Esperanto believe a universal language results in less confusion.

However, such attempts are bound to fail. They ignore that language is complex and much more than a collection of words and grammatical structures. And they completely miss the point that language and culture cannot be separated.

Consider the phrase “cold turkey.” It’s a difficult phrase to translate directly because it does not refer to leftover turkey eaten cold, as on a sandwich or in a salad. English speakers know that it means to stop a habit suddenly and without assistance. The phrase might be based on the 19th century phrase “talking turkey,” which refers to speaking plainly. 

In either case, the creators of the phrase needed to be familiar with turkeys, which are native to the Americas. A European would not have created the phrase. 

So a common language will eliminate such confusion, universal language advocates will say.

Maybe. However, wars aren’t fought over words but over ideas. Europeans relocated Native Americans because they wanted the land. Language differences will lead to confusion, but the confusion gives us opportunities to learn from one another.

Another factor that dooms Esperanto and similar artificial, universal languages is that they ignore the fact that languages change. Foreign speakers who learned Esperanto would alter it to fit their mindset. Chinese speakers, who don’t use tenses, would add them to Esperanto. Think Spanglish. Esperanto would become Esperantese. 

With a little conversation and some research, I learned the significance of the guinea pig left behind. I became a more informed global citizen. If that’s what language confusion gets me, I’ll happily accept more confusion.

AI  and Animal Videos

Just for kicks, I asked an AI to provide me with details about an animal video. Here was the response:

“In a viral video, a woman asks her guinea pig to identify different vegetables in Spanish. However, the guinea pig simply stares at her, leading some viewers to question if language confusion is possible for animals.” 

I have no idea if such a video exists. In regards to language confusion in animals, the post What is Language? explores animal language. And if you’re not a language lover yet, How to Become a Lover of Language can make you one.

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