Posts Tagged ‘Language’

Posted: January 4, 2013 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Patricia Kuhl, of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in a press release. “The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.” Previous studies have shown that the perception of speech sounds develops in infants long before they are able to speak themselves. Between the ages of 6 months and a year, for example, babies quickly get better at telling the difference between sounds often used in their native languages. At the same time, they rapidly lose the ability to distinguish between the typical sounds of other languages. (via Language Learning Begins in Womb : Discovery News)

What Will Come After Language? By: Ben Goertzel

Posted: December 29, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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I’m going to talk a bit about language, and how it relates to mind and reality … and about what may come AFTER language as we know it, when mind and reality change dramatically due to radical technological advances. Language is, obviously, one of the main things distinguishing humans from other animals. Dogs and apes and so forth, they do have their own languages, which do have their own kinds of sophistication — but these animal languages seem to be lacking in some of the subtler aspects of human languages. They don’t have the recursive phrase structure that lets us construct and communicate complex conceptual structures.Dolphins and whales may have languages as sophisticated as ours — we really don’t know — but if so their language may be very different. Their language may have to do with continuous wave-forms rather than discrete entities like words, letters and sentences. Continuous communication may be better in some ways — I can imagine it being better for conveying emotion, just as for us humans, tone and gesture can be better at conveying emotion than words are. Yet, our discrete, chunky human language seems to match naturally with our human cognitive propensity to break things down into parts, and with our practical ability to build stuff out of parts, using tools.

What Will Come After Language? By: Ben Goertzel

Online, English has become a common language for users from around the world. In the process, the language itself is changing. When America emerged from the ashes of a bruising war with Britain in 1814, the nation was far from united. Noah Webster thought that a common language would bring people together and help create a new identity that would make the country truly independent of the British. Webster’s dictionary, now in its 11th edition, adopted the Americanised spellings familiar today – er instead of re in theatre, dropping the u from colour, and losing the double l from words such as traveller. It also documented new words that were uniquely American such as skunk, opossum, hickory, squash and chowder. An American Dictionary of the English Language took 18 years to complete and Webster learned 26 other languages in order to research the etymology of its 70,000 entries. The internet is creating a similar language evolution, but at a much faster pace. There are now thought to be some 4.5 billion web pages worldwide. And with half the population of China now on line, most of them are written in Chinese. Still, some linguists predict that within 10 years English will dominate the internet – but in forms very different to what we accept and recognise as English today. That’s because people who speak English as a second language already outnumber native speakers. And increasingly they use it to communicate with other non-native speakers, particularly on the internet where less attention is paid to grammar and spelling and users don’t have to worry about their accent.

Learn English online: How the internet is changing language (BBC News )

I am sitting in a darkened, closet-size lab at Tufts University, my scalp covered by a blue cloth cap studded with electrodes that detect electric signals from my brain. Data flow from the electrodes down rainbow-colored wires to an electroencephalography (eeg) machine, which records the activity so a scientist can study it later on. Wearing this elaborate setup, I gaze at a television in front of me, focusing on a tiny cross at the center of the screen. The cross disappears, and a still image appears of Snoopy chasing a leaf. Then Charlie Brown takes Snoopy’s place, pitching a baseball. Lucy, Linus, and Woodstock visit as well. For the next half hour I stare at Peanuts comic strips, one frame at a time. The panels are without words, and while sometimes the action makes sense from frame to frame, at other times the Peanuts gang seems to be engaging in a series of unconnected shenanigans. At the same time, a freshly minted Ph.D. named Neil Cohn is watching the readout from my brain, an exercise he has repeated with some 100 subjects to date. Many people would consider tracking Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes comic strips unworthy of scientific inquiry, but Cohn begs to differ. His evidence suggests that we use the same cognitive process to make sense of comics as we do to read a sentence. They seem to tap the deepest recesses of our minds, where we bring meaning to the world.

The Brain: The Charlie Brown Effect, A comic book artist-turned-neuroscientist says the images in Peanuts tap 
the same brain processes as sentences.

Posted: November 18, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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WHERE do new words come from? On Twitter at least, they often begin life in cities with large African American populations before spreading more widely, according to a study of the language used on the social network. Jacob Eisenstein at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and colleagues examined 30 million tweets sent from US locations between December 2009 and May 2011. Several new terms spread during this period, including “bruh”, an alternative spelling of “bro” or “brother”, which first arose in a few south-east cities before eventually hopping to parts of California. Residents of Cleveland, Ohio, were the first to use “ctfu”, an abbreviation of “cracking the fuck up”, usage that has since spread into Pennsylvania ( After collecting the data, the team built a mathematical model that captures the large-scale flow of new words between cities. The model revealed that cities with big African American populations tend to lead the way in linguistic innovation. The team is still working on a more detailed analysis and says it is too early to say which cities are the most influential. (via Twitter shows language evolves in cities – tech – 17 November 2012 – New Scientist)

Posted: November 18, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Campaigners in Sweden are trying to force a dictionary to change its definition of “nerd”. But after two decades of “reappropriation” has “nerd” – and its sister word “geek” – now completely lost its derogatory connotations? In the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds the rousing final speech of one of the protagonists starts with the statement: “I’m a nerd.” Its plot may be cartoonish but the film reveals a certain cultural backdrop – to be a nerd was to be socially awkward, even socially inferior. Jocks, those who were good at sport, or other socially successful groups, usually ended up winning. To turn that on its head could form the basis for comedy. Things have changed. (via BBC News – Are ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ now positive terms?)

In contrast with animal communication systems, diversity is characteristic of almost every aspect of human language. Languages variously employ tones, clicks, or manual signs to signal differences in meaning; some languages lack the noun-verb distinction (e.g., Straits Salish), whereas others have a proliferation of fine-grained syntactic categories (e.g., Tzeltal); and some languages do without morphology (e.g., Mandarin), while others pack a whole sentence into a single word (e.g., Cayuga). A challenge for evolutionary biology is to reconcile the diversity of languages with the high degree of biological uniformity of their speakers. Here, we model processes of language change and geographical dispersion and find a consistent pressure for flexible learning, irrespective of the language being spoken. This pressure arises because flexible learners can best cope with the observed high rates of linguistic change associated with divergent cultural evolution following human migration. Thus, rather than genetic adaptations for specific aspects of language, such as recursion, the coevolution of genes and fast-changing linguistic structure provides the biological basis for linguistic diversity. Only biological adaptations for flexible learning combined with cultural evolution can explain how each child has the potential to learn any human language.

PLOS ONE: The Biological Origin of Linguistic Diversity