Tag Archives | Linguistics

Capitalism is God’s Will and the Cat Drank all the Milk: How our Language Creates our Biggest Problems and Why We Can’t do Anything about It

Felipe Del Valle (CC BY 2.0)

Felipe Del Valle (CC BY 2.0)

I have a confession to make, one that a good number of readers will find disgusting and emetic and prevent many of them from reading further. Others, however, might relate or find it interesting regardless, and so those people will continue to read, which, I suppose, is good enough for me. You see, when I was a child, from a very early age, probably as early as I can remember, I felt all around me the “Presence of God.” It was and is, in all actuality, an impossible feeling to properly describe, but I suppose to some extent that I could say that I felt some sort of “immanent-transcendent energy” “flowing” through me and through my surroundings. Having lived in a rural area hours away in any direction from something resembling civilization, many of my childhood memories consist of me sitting in the backseat of a Toyota 4Runner driving somewhere else, usually toward civilization somewhere.… Read the rest

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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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You Already Know One Word in Every Language on Earth

huhHuh?

Via Los Angeles Times.

Humans speak many languages, but we may be united in our confusion. A new study examined languages from around the world and discovered what they say could be a universal word: “Huh?”

Researchers traveled to cities and remote villages on five continents, visiting native speakers of 10 very different languages. Their nearly 200 recordings of casual conversations revealed that there are versions of “Huh?” in every language they studied — and they sound remarkably similar.

While it may seem like a throwaway word, “Huh?” is the glue that holds a broken conversation together, the globe-trotting team reported Friday in the journal PLOS ONE. The fact that it appears over and over reveals a remarkable case of “convergent evolution” in language, they added.

“Huh?” is a much-maligned utterance in English. It’s seen as a filler word, little more than what’s called a “conversational grunt,” like mm-hmm. But it plays a crucial role in conversations, said Herbert Clark, a psychologist at Stanford University who studies language.

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Is This What The Proto-Indo-European Language Spoken 6,000 Years Ago Sounded Like?

PIEIt sounds like the Satanic incantations hidden in the fadeout of Beatles album. io9 writes:
Linguists have recently reconstructed what a 6,000 year-old-language called Proto-Indo-European might have sounded like. This language was the forerunner of many European and Asian languages, and now you can listen to how it may have sounded. Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C. The question became, what did PIE sound like? As linguists have continued to discover more about PIE, this sonic experiment is periodically updated to reflect the most current understanding of how this extinct language would have sounded when spoken some six thousand years ago. Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars, no one version can be considered definitive.
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Mysterious Voynich Manuscript Wasn’t a Hoax, Study Suggests

voynich manuscript

Marcelo Montemurro and his colleague Damián Zanette have discovered that the language of the Voynich Manuscript statistically adheres to linguistic rules. via Live Science

The unreadable Voynich manuscript has eluded linguists and cryptographers since it was discovered by an antique book dealer in 1912.

Carbon-dated to the early 15th century, the book is written in an unknown language that has never been found anywhere else and it is full of equally puzzling drawings; besides depictions of the Zodiac signs, none of the illustrations are immediately recognizable as symbols or objects from the real world (much to the excitement of ancient alien conspiracy theorists).

The text’s nonsensical nature has led some to dismiss the Voynich manuscript as a Renaissance-era hoax. But researchers who revisited the book say the words in its folios are organized with the telltale characteristics of a real language.

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Will Translation Devices Soon Allow Us To Talk With Animals?

talk to animalsThe Atlantic speaks with Con Slobodchikoff, a professor of animal behavior at Northern Arizona University, who has spent 30 years decoding animal communications and believes we are approaching the point of breaching the human-animal language divide:

A computer science colleague of mine and I are using artificial intelligence techniques to keep a computer record of the call that prairie dogs were making, analyze it with these AI techniques, and then spit back the answer to us, which potentially could be in English. And then we could tell the computer something that we wanted to convey to the prairie dogs. And the computer could then synthesize the sounds and play it back to the prairie dogs.

The [prairie dogs] have word-like phonemes, combining those into sentence-like calls. They have social chatter. They can distinguish between types of predators that are nearby — dogs, coyotes, humans — and seem to have developed warnings that specify the predators’ species and size and color.

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Ancient Whistling Language Still Spoken On Spanish Island

The BBC reports on an almost-musical language:

On a Spanish island, an ancient whistling language that once seemed to be dying out is now undergoing a revival. Silbo gomero or Gomeran whistle is an ancient language the locals have assured me is still in use.

This method of communication, in which the Spanish language is replaced by two whistled vowels and four consonants, has a peculiarity perfectly suited to this landscape of deep valleys and steep ravines. It has the ability to travel up to two miles, much further and with less effort than shouting.

It is known that when the first European settlers arrived at La Gomera in the 15th Century, the inhabitants of the island – of North African origin – communicated with whistles. The arrival of the Spanish, the locals adapted the whistling language to Spanish. So the most likely theory is that the whistle came with the settlers from Africa, where there are records of other whistled languages.

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A Future Of Fewer Words

Today we use an ever-shrinking pool of shorter, simpler words as image-based communication eats up word-based language. Not long from now, we’ll be grunting and sending each other extremely complicated emoticons. Lifeboat writes:

An ongoing “survival of the fittest” may lead to continuing expansion of image-based communications and the extinction of more than half the world’s languages by this century’s end. Not only is the world using fewer languages, but also fewer words. Consider the rich vocabulary and complex sentence constructions in extemporaneous arguments of politicians in earlier centuries against the slick, simplistic sound bites of contemporary times.

The cell phone has become a ubiquitous, all-purpose communications tool. However, its small keyboard and tiny screen limit the complexity, type, and length of written messages. Because no sane person wants to read streams of six-point font on a three-inch video screen, phones today are built with menus of images up to the presentation point of the messages themselves.

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Woman Awakens From Surgery With British Accent

110501_karen_butlerAnother baffling case as foreign accent syndrome (an actual medical condition) strikes again. When will a cure emerge? I prescribe being wrapped tightly in an American flag for two days, followed by 10 cc’s of apple pie. Spokane, WA’s Spokesman-Review reports:

Over the next few days, the swelling subsided and the pain vanished, but Butler’s newly acquired accent did not. Though it has softened over time, she’s never again spoken like a native Oregonian from Madras. To most people, she sounds British.

It took months to find an explanation: foreign accent syndrome, a disorder so rare that only about 60 cases have been documented worldwide since the early 1900s.

Foreign accent syndrome is usually caused by a stroke, though it also has been associated with multiple sclerosis, head injuries and migraines.

One of the first cases was reported at the turn of the last century by a French neurologist. But the best known case, documented by Norwegian neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn, was a 30-year-old woman who was hit by shrapnel from a German air raid over Oslo in 1941.

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