Tag Archives | Language

Does Language Shape Culture?

New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world. Lera Boroditsky reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?

Take “Humpty Dumpty sat on a…” Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say “sat” rather than “sit.” In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can’t) change the verb to mark tense.

In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.

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Migraine Leaves British Woman Speaking with Chinese Accent (Video)

Weird. Never heard of Foreign Accent Syndrome before. Via the Telegraph:
A British woman who suffers chronic migraines was struck by such a severe headache it left her talking in a Chinese accent. Sarah Colwill used to speak with a broad West Country accent. She is thought to have sustained brain damage during her last migraine which left her with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) — an extremely rare condition which causes speech to change.
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How Frank Luntz Led Health Care ‘Reform’ Opposition

The reason I am sharing this is not because I think the so-called health care "reform" that passed actually qualified as such, but to point out one of the maestros (or Dark Lord of the Sith, depending on your take) behind the scenes of the opposition to such legislation. Know who Frank Luntz is. He manages to influence the public discourse in the United States, on a regular basis: P.S. It took the Democrats until April 15th to come up with this video? And you wonder why it took over a year to pass bullshit "reform"...
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Enter Syria’s ‘Tell Zeidan': A 7,500 Year-Old Harbinger of The World’s First Cities

Truly fascinating article from John Noble Wilford in the New York Times. Is this the place where social classes — the rich and the poor — as we know them today first emerged? Reports the New York Times:
Tell Zeidan Artifacts

Archaeologists have embarked on excavations in northern Syria expected to widen and deepen understanding of a prehistoric culture in Mesopotamia that set the stage for the rise of the world’s first cities and states and the invention of writing.

In two seasons of preliminary surveying and digging at the site known as Tell Zeidan, American and Syrian investigators have already uncovered a tantalizing sampling of artifacts from what had been a robust pre-urban settlement on the upper Euphrates River. People occupied the site for two millenniums, until 4000 BC — a little-known but fateful period of human cultural evolution.

Scholars of antiquity say that Zeidan should reveal insights into life in a time called the Ubaid period, 5500 to 4000 BC.

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Smart Phones May One Day Be Universal Translators

Babel FishSure beats inserting a Babel Fish into the ear. Ryan Kim writes in the San Fransisco Chronicle:
In science fiction, characters often turn to a portable universal translator to help bridge the linguistic divide, either among humans or with aliens. But the concept doesn't just exist in the imagination of "Star Trek" writers or the pages of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Researchers are actually closing in on the technology and foresee its application in the coming years in a very familiar device: the smart phone. Imagine walking into a restaurant in Beijing and ordering off the menu and talking with waiters in Chinese. It's a future that is on the way to becoming a reality.
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Researchers Uncover 30,000-Year-Old Written Language

cave

The Globe and Mail reports on the discovery of what might be the earliest written language, comprised of lines and geometric shapes:

A graphic code uncovered by researchers at the University of Victoria suggests that written communication may have started 30,000 years ago.

Compiling the cave signs of nearly 150 sites across Ice Age France, researchers found striking similarities that suggest human beings may have used a graphic language made up of simple lines and geometric shapes to communicate shortly after the first African civilizations arrived in Europe…suggesting that the “creative explosion” occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

26 signs illustrated in a consistent style were found across the sites using images from a digital archive. While the illustrations may be rudimentary – composed of circles, straight lines and triangles – she said they suggest the seeds of a prehistoric mode of communication.

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TSA Detains Student for Arabic Study Cards; Asked By Agent ‘Do You Know Who Did 9/11?’

Arabic Study CardsRAW Story is reporting today the ACLU is filing a lawsuit on behalf of the student. Here's the original report from Dave Davies in the Philadelphia Daily News:
EIGHT YEARS after 9/11, we're used to changes in our routines. We show ID to get into office buildings, and take off our shoes at airports. But should a college student flying back to school be handcuffed and held for five hours because he has Arabic flash cards in his backpack? That's the way Nick George, a senior at Pomona College, in California, sees what happened to him at the Philadelphia airport two Saturdays ago. George, of Wyncote, Montgomery County, was about to catch a Southwest flight back to school when stereo speakers in his backpack caught the eye of screeners at the metal detector.
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The Curious Case of the Evolving Apostrophe

Possessive apostrophesTechnology Review’s physics arXiv blog:

Last year, grammatical tragedy struck in the heart of England when Birmingham City Council decreed that apostrophes were to be forever banished from public addresses. To the horror of purists and pedants alike, place names such as St Paul’s Square were banned and unceremoniously replaced with an apostrophe-free version: St Pauls Square.

The council’s reasoning was that nobody understands apostrophes and their misuse was so common in public signs that they were a hindrance to effective navigation. Anecdotes abounded of ambulance drivers puzzling over how to enter St James’s Street into a GPS navigation system while victims of heart attacks, strokes and hit ‘n’ run drivers passed from this world into the (presumably apostrophe-free) next.

Why the confusion? Part of the reason is that apostrophes are not particularly common in the English language: In French they occur at a rate of more than once per sentence on average.

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