Sunday, August 10, 2008

Train whistles

Marcus, steam train buff, and student of train whistles, instructs his nephew, Jerome.


Marcus: Whistles go back a way.

Jerome: I guess they signal something?

Marcus: Sure. You know what long-long-short-long means?

Jerome: Nope.

Marcus: Approaching a public crossing. Rule 14L.

Jerome: Hmm. Hoot. Hoot. Hoooooot. Hoot?

Marcus: You got it. But the system can do emotions too.

Jerome: Sad whistles as in Woody Guthrie?

Marcus: Can be a whole railroad folk song in one steam train whistle hoot. Like this. Listen.



Signaling systems have a limited lexicon. “Watch out! Coming through.”

Language systems have big refined lexicons and complicated syntactic systems. “See you downtown in the King George for a pint after I hand over 454 to maintenance?“

And yet the mechanistic signaling system early on was adapted to include emotional expression. Unsurprising really since emotions probably preceded lexis.