Tag Archives | Language

How a PhD in linguistics prepared me for motherhood

peasap (CC BY 2.0)

peasap (CC BY 2.0)

Annabelle Lukin

Unlike most newborns, on his arrival into the world, my newly-minted son found himself in the arms of someone well-versed in the the most fiercely contested question in contemporary linguistics: is language innate?

Are babies born with grammar hard-wired into their brain? Or is language something bestowed by culture and socialisation?

The early exchanges of gaze, attention and vocalisations with my baby in his first hours, days and weeks were experienced against the melodrama of modern linguistics’ greatest schism. This happens to revolve entirely around the role of mothers and significant others in the development of a child’s language.

In the story of how language emerges in the child, as told by Noam Chomsky, nature is largely the lone hero. The child comes with a “language organ” already installed in her or his brain, as a sudden and isolated gift of evolution – out of nowhere, all-at-once, fully formed and forever unchanging.… Read the rest

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Linguist Claims that 90% of Languages Will Be Extinct in 100 years

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Sarah Griffiths writes at The Daily Mail:

Sci-fi visions of the future may focus on soaring skylines and flying cars, but the world in 100 years may not only look different, but sound different too.

While there are more than 6,000 languages spoken globally at present, less than 600 are likely to endure in 2115, and they could be simplified versions of what we recognise today, one linguist has claimed.

He told MailOnline that the advent of technologically-advanced translating tools will not be enough to save the diversity of Earth’s languages either.

Writing in a piece for The Wall Street Journal, Dr John McWhorter said that in a century from now there will be ‘vastly fewer languages,’ which will be less complicated than they are today – especially in the way they are spoken.

The American studies, philosophy and music expert at Columbia University, predicts that 90 per cent of languages will die out to leave around 600.

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Humans, Baboons Share Cumulative Culture Ability

Gelada Baboon  A.Davey (CC BY 2.0)

Gelada Baboon
A.Davey (CC BY 2.0)

Via ScienceDaily:

The ability to build up knowledge over generations, called cumulative culture, has given mankind language and technology. While it was thought to be limited to humans until now, researchers from the Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive (CNRS/AMU), working in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh (UK), have recently found that baboons are also capable of cumulative culture. Their findings are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 5 November 2014.

Humankind is capable of great accomplishments, such as sending probes into space and eradicating diseases; these achievements have been made possible because humans learn from their elders and enrich this knowledge over generations. It was previously thought that this cumulative aspect of culture — whereby small changes build up, are transmitted, used and enriched by others — was limited to humans, but it has now been observed in another primate, the baboon.

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Direct Brain Interface Between Humans

Surian Soosay (CC BY 2.0)

Surian Soosay (CC BY 2.0)

Via ScienceDaily:

Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language?

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

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Radical Linguistics in an Age of Extinction

1404144393BrueghelBabel666

An interesting essay on the equality of languages by Ross Perlin at Dissent Magazine:

. . . words are a way of fending in the world: whole languages, like species, can disappear without dropping a gram of earth weight, and symbolic systems to a fare you well can be added without filling a ditch or thimble. . . .

—A.R. Ammons

Modern linguistics is founded on a radical premise: the equality of all languages. “All languages have equal expressive power as communication systems,” writes Steven Pinker. “Every grammar is equally complex and logical and capable of producing an infinite set of sentences to express any thought one might wish to express,” says a recent textbook. “The outstanding fact about any language is its formal completeness,” wrote Edward Sapir, adding elsewhere for rhetorical effect: “When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.”

Where native speakers are concerned, no language, dialect, or accent can meaningfully be described as primitive, broken, or inferior.

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Dolphin Translator Relays First Word

dolphinsCan we handle what dolphins have to tell us? CNET News reports:

Scientists at the Wild Dolphin Project (WDP) who have been developing a dolphin translator may have succeeded in getting their software to work.

WDP director Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean with a pod of dolphins she has been tracking for 25 years, wearing a prototype of a dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT), developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Thad Starner, when one of the dolphin’s whistles was translated as the word “sargassum” — a type of seaweed.

Humans have for some time been communicating with dolphins on a rudimentary level. The animals are capable of responding appropriately to commands and learning to recognise symbols.

The whistle picked up by CHAT, translated into human speech, was not a whistle from the dolphins’ natural repertoire. Instead, Herzing and her team invented a series of whistles and ascribed them to certain things — one of which was sargassum — and trained the dolphins to repeat the whistles when they encountered those things.

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Jargon is the Death of Culture

On the Maraya Karena Show, the eponymous host speaks about the under-acknowledged connection between language and reality, and what happens when meaning slips from our patterns of expression:

What will murder all our movements?
JARGON!!!
In this syntactical reality our greatest obstacle to heaven on earth is mindless repetition of stale language.

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Famed Philosopher Martin Heidegger Speaks In This Rare Documentary

via Wikipedia

Martin Heidegger (German: [ˈmaɐ̯tiːn ˈhaɪdɛɡɐ]; September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976) was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the “question of Being”.[6] Heidegger is known for offering a phenomenological critique of Kant. He wrote extensively on Nietzsche and Hölderlin in his later career. Heidegger’s influence has been far reaching, influencing fields such as philosophy, theology, art, architecture, artificial intelligence, cultural anthropology, design, literary theory, social theory, political theory, psychiatry, and psychotherapy.[7][8]

His best known book, Being and Time, is considered one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century.[9] In it and later works, Heidegger maintained that our way of questioning defines our nature. He argued that philosophy, Western civilization’s chief way of questioning, had lost sight of the being it sought. Finding ourselves “always already” fallen in a world of presuppositions, we lose touch with what being was before its truth became “muddled”.

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