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The Sentence Is The Meme

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Joined: 20 Mar 2006
Posts: 1273
Location: Kent (East Hill), WA

PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2006 4:15 pm    Post subject: The Sentence Is The Meme Reply with quote

One of my pet theories is that the meme is a sentence. Here is an early Usenet post where I describe it:

The unit of cultural transmission that is called "the meme" by Richard Dawkins is best understood in the structure of an English sentence. (Conversely, I think this is why English evolved as the lingua franca, because it most closely matches memes and is better able to act as a carrier for memes than other languages. This is especially important to cultures that send their memes on artificial devices like the Internet and CD players).

Now I find that sentence structure has been found in syntaxes used by non-human species:,10117,19185081-401,00.html


'Sentences' convey monkeys' business

By Mark Henderson in London

May 19, 2006

MONKEYS are able to string together a simple "sentence", according to
research that offers the first evidence that animals may be capable of a
key feature of language.

British scientists have discovered that putty-nosed monkeys in Nigeria
sometimes communicate by combining sounds into a sequence that has a
different meaning from any of its component calls, an ability that was
thought to be uniquely human.
Although many animals communicate with one another using calls that have a particular meaning - usually a warning signifying the presence of a certain predator - none has been known to combine these alarm calls into sequences similar to those of human language.

The findings suggest that the rudiments of syntax, a basic component of
human language, may be more widespread among primates than is generally thought, and could ultimately shed light on the evolution of this most distinctly human of traits."

I think this indicates what a primal part of language the sentence is. I could also indicate the units with which we store expression and so on. In the science of memetics it could indicate the breakpoint for where something is memetically encoded. Certainly, sentence play produce some great experiments.
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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your claims here strike me as extremely narrow for your larger point, and surprisingly parochial for your smaller one.

First, it seems misguided to try to say that a meme is a sentence. Some are, and some aren't. My impression is that most memes are basically slogans, but even so, consider that tune you can't stop humming, the visual effect that makes an artist so recognizable (and copied), as in an Escher or Magritte, for instance. I think it's fair to say the "Mc-" is a meme in our society. It would be quite a strain, I think, to call these things sentences.

In your smaller point about English as being the lingua franca because it most closely matches the structure of the meme, this strikes me as an example of what some physicists have described as "worse than wrong". An untestable hypothesis. Even if you could devise some way of testing this, it strikes me as the kind of claim that is so self-serving, and so parochial, that it is almost certainly wrong. In any case, there's plenty of social and historical arguments to explain the triumph of the English language currently.

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