Archive for the ‘language’ Category

By Ben Westcott

A conversation between dolphins may have been recorded by scientists for the first time, a Russian researcher claims.

Two adult Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, named Yasha and Yana, didn’t interrupt each other during an interaction taped by scientists and may have formed words and sentences with a series of pulses, Vyacheslav Ryabov says in a new paper.

“Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people,” Ryabov said.

Joshua Smith, a research fellow at Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit, says there will need to be more research before scientists can be sure whether dolphins are chatting.

“I think it’s very early days to be drawing conclusions that the dolphins are using signals in a kind of language context, similar to humans,” he told CNN.

There are two different types of noises dolphins use for communication, whistles and clicks, also known as pulses.

Using new recording techniques, Ryabov separated the individual “non coherent pulses” the two dolphins made and theorized each pulse was a word in the dolphins’ language, while a collection of pulses is a sentence.

“As this language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins,” he said in the paper, which was published in the St. Petersburg Polytechnical University Journal: Physics and Mathematics last month.

“Their language can be ostensibly considered a high developed spoken language.”

In his paper, Ryabov calls for humans to create a device by which human beings can communicate with dolphins.

“Humans must take the first step to establish relationships with the first intelligent inhabitants of the planet Earth by creating devices capable of overcoming the barriers that stand in the way of … communications between dolphins and people,” he said.

Smith said while the results were an exciting advance in the under-researched field of dolphin communication, the results first needed to be replicated in open water environments.

“If we boil it down we pretty much have two animals in an artificial environment where reverberations are a problem … It wouldn’t make much sense for animals (in a small area) to make sounds over each other because they wouldn’t get much (sonar) information,” he said.

“It would be nice to see a variety of alternate explanations to this rather than the one they’re settling on.”

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/13/europe/dolphin-language-conversation-research/index.html

The Oxford English Dictionary is a historical dictionary, which means that when its editors add a phrase such as hot mess to their reference—as they did this week—they add every definition of the word they can find. The editors are like detectives, following phrases back to times when Anglo-Saxons were jabbering about peasants and overlords.

The quarterly update reveals that in the 1800s, for instance, a “hot mess” was a warm meal, particularly one served to a group like troops. In the 1900s, people used hot mess to refer to a difficult or uncomfortable situation. And in the 2000s, one used it to refer to Amy Schumer (or, as they put it, something or someone in extreme confusion or disorder).

Twerk, another new addition, might have been made famous by Miley Cyrus and a foam finger in 2013, but the editors traced its meaning back to 1820, when twirk referred to a twisting or jerking movement. The precise origin of the word is uncertain, the editors say, but it may be a blend of twist or twitch and jerk. Their definition: “To dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance.”

Here is a selection from the hundreds of words OED just added to its ranks, along with the earliest known usage and context provided by TIME.

autotune (v., 1997): to alter or correct the pitch of (a musical or vocal performance) using an auto-tune device, software, etc. The word has meant “to tune automatically” since 1958, when people were tuning radio transmitters rather than hilarious local news interviews.

backronym (n., 1983): a contrived explanation of an existing word’s origin, positing it as an acronym. When some guy tries to say that golf is an acronym of “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden,” that is a backronym (and clever nonsense). It more likely comes from the Dutch word kolf, which describes a stick used in sports.

boiler room (n., 1892): a place used as a center of operations for an election campaign, especially a room equipped for teams of volunteers to make telephone calls soliciting support for a party or candidate. This phrase has been used to describe an actual room that contains boilers, as on a steamship, since 1820.

bridge-and-tunnel (adj., 1977): of or designating a person from the outer boroughs or suburbs of a city, typically characterized as unsophisticated or unfashionable. The phrase was first used by Manhattanites to describe people they thought unworthy of their island.

cisgender (adj., 1999): designating someone whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth. This word exists to serve as an equal and complement to transgender.

FLOTUS (n., 1983): the First Lady of the United States. This is a true acronym, which appears to have been first applied to Nancy Reagan.

fo’ shizzle (phr., 2001): in the language of rap and hip-hop this means “for sure.” Shizzle, as a euphemism for sh-t, dates back to the ’90s. One can also be “the shizzle,” which is the best or most popular thing.

half-ass (v., 1954): to perform (an action or task) poorly or incompetently; to do (something) in a desultory or half-hearted manner. One can also insult someone by calling them an “ass,” referring to the horse-like creature who has appeared in stories as the type who is clumsy or stupid since the time of the Greeks.

koozie (n., 1982): an insulating sleeve that fits over a beverage can or bottle to keep it cold. Fun fact: that little cardboard thing one slips around a cup of coffee to keep it from burning one’s hand is known as a zarf.

Masshole (n., 1989): term of contempt for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts. This is what is known as a blended word, which Lewis Carroll called portmanteaus, naming them after a suitcase that unfolds into two equal parts.

sext (n., 2001): a sexually explicit or suggestive message or image sent electronically, typically using a mobile phone. Back in the 1500s, when someone referred to a “sext,” they were talking about a Christian worship ritual that involved chanting around midday.

stanky (adj., 1972): having a strong (usually unpleasant) smell. The OED editors offer the comparison to skanky, which means unattractive or offensive, as well as janky, which refers to something that is untrustworthy or of poor quality.

http://time.com/3932402/oxford-dictionary-fo-shizzle-masshole-hot-mess/?xid=newsletter-brief


Chinese children are lined up in Tiananmen Square in 2003 for photos with the overseas families adopting them. The children in the new study were adopted from China at an average age of 12.8 months and raised in French-speaking families.

You may not recall any memories from the first year of life, but if you were exposed to a different language at the time, your brain will still respond to it at some level, a new study suggests.

Brain scans show that children adopted from China as babies into families that don’t speak Chinese still unconsciously recognize Chinese sounds as language more than a decade later.

“It was amazing to see evidence that such an early experience continued to have a lasting effect,” said Lara Pierce, lead author of the study just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in an email to CBC News.

The adopted children, who were raised in French-speaking Quebec families, had no conscious memory of hearing Chinese.

“If you actually test these people in Chinese, they don’t actually know it,” said Denise Klein, a researcher at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute who co-authored the paper.

But their brains responded to Chinese language sounds the same way as those of bilingual children raised in Chinese-speaking families.


Children exposed to Chinese as babies display similar brain activation patterns as children with continued exposure to Chinese when hearing Chinese words, fMRI scans show.

“In essence, their pattern still looks like people who’ve been exposed to Chinese all their lives.”

Pierce, a PhD candidate in psychology at McGill University, working with Klein and other collaborators, scanned the brains of 48 girls aged nine to 17. Each participant lay inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine while she listened to pairs of three-syllable phrases. The phrases contained either:

■Sounds and tones from Mandarin, the official Chinese dialect.
■Hummed versions of the same tones but no actual words.

Participants were asked to tell if the last syllables of each pair were the same or different. The imaging machine measured what parts of the brain were active as the participants were thinking.

“Everybody can do the task — it’s not a difficult task to do,” Klein said. But the sounds are processed differently by people who recognize Chinese words — in that case, they activate the part of the brain that processes language.

Klein said the 21 children adopted from China who participated in the study might have been expected to show patterns similar to those of the 11 monolingual French-speaking children. After all, the adoptees left China at an average age of 12.8 months, an age when most children can only say a few words. On average, those children had not heard Chinese in more than 12 years.

The fact that their brains still recognized Chinese provides some insight into the importance of language learning during the first year of life, Klein suggested.

Effect on ‘relearning’ language not known

But Klein noted that the study is a preliminary one and the researchers don’t yet know what the results mean.

For example, would adopted children exposed to Chinese in infancy have an easier time relearning Chinese later, compared with monolingual French-speaking children who were learning it for the first time?

Pierce said studies trying to figure that out have had mixed results, but she hopes the findings in this study could generate better ways to tackle that question.

She is also interested in whether the traces of the lost language affect how the brain responds to other languages or other kinds of learning. Being able to speak multiple languages has already been shown to have different effects on the way the brain processes languages and other kinds of information.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/adoptees-lost-language-from-infancy-triggers-brain-response-1.2838001

When an elephant killed a Maasai woman collecting firewood near Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2007, a group of young Maasai men retaliated by spearing one of the animals.

“It wasn’t the one that had killed the woman, says Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins. “It was just the first elephant they encountered—a young bull on the edge of a swamp.”

The Maasai spiked him with spears and, their anger spent, returned home. Later, the animal died from his wounds.

Elephants experience those kinds of killings sporadically. Yet the attacks happen often enough that the tuskers have learned that the Maasai—and Maasai men in particular—are dangerous.

The elephants in the Amboseli region are so aware of this that they can even distinguish between Ma, the language of the Maasai, and other languages, says a team of researchers, who report their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results add to “our growing knowledge of the discriminatory abilities of the elephant mind, and how elephants make decisions and see their world,” says Joyce Poole, an elephant expert with ElephantVoices in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Indeed, previous studies have shown that the Amboseli elephants can tell the cattle-herding, red-robed Maasai apart from their agricultural and more blandly dressed neighbors, the Kamba people, simply by scent and the color of their dress.

The elephants know too that walking through villages on weekends is dangerous, as is crop raiding during the full moon.

They’re equally aware of their other key predator, lions, and from their roars, know how many lions are in a pride and if a male lion (the bigger threat because he can bring down an elephant calf) is present.

And they know exactly how to respond to lions roaring nearby: run them off with a charge.

Intriguingly, when the Amboseli elephants encounter a red cloth, such as those worn by the Maasai, they also react aggressively. But they employ a different tactic when they catch the scent of a Maasai man: They run away. Smelling the scent of a Kamba man, however, troubles them far less.

“They have very clear behavioral responses in all of these situations,” says Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom. “We wondered if they would react differently to different human voices.”

To find out, she and her colleagues played recordings to elephant families of Maasai and Kamba men, as well as Maasai women and boys, speaking a simple phrase in their language: “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming.”

Over a two-year period, they carried out 142 such playbacks with 47 elephant families, each time playing a different human voice through a concealed speaker placed 50 meters (164 feet) from the animals. They video-recorded the elephants’ reactions to the various human voices, including a Maasai man’s voice they altered to sound like a woman’s.

As soon as an elephant family heard an adult Maasai man speak, the matriarch didn’t hesitate, the researchers say. “She instantly retreats,” Shannon says. “But it’s a silent retreat. They sometimes make a low rumble, and may smell for him, too, but they’re already leaving, and bunching up into a defensive formation. It’s a very different response to when they hear lions.”

In contrast, the voices of Kamba men didn’t cause nearly as strong a defensive reaction: The elephants didn’t consider the Kamba a serious threat.

“That subtle discrimination is easy for us to do, but then we speak human language,” says Richard Byrne, a cognitive biologist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. “It’s interesting that elephants can also detect the characteristic differences between the languages.”

The Amboseli elephants were also sufficiently tuned in to the Maasai language that they could tell women’s and boys’ voices from men’s, seldom turning tail in response. “Maasai women and boys don’t kill elephants,” Shannon points out. Nor were the elephants tricked by the man’s altered voice; when they heard it, they left at once.

“The elephants’ decision-making is very precise,” McComb says, “and it illustrates how they’ve adapted where they can to coexist with us. They’d rather run away than tangle with a human predator.”

Why, one wonders, don’t elephants retreat when poachers descend on them?

“Unfortunately, there are going to be things they cannot adapt to, things such as humans’ ability to come after them with automatic weapons or mass poisonings,” McComb says. “And in those situations, we have to protect them—or we will lose them, ultimately.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140310-elephants-amboseli-national-park-kenya-maasai-kamba-lions-science/?google_editors_picks=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

By Stephanie Meade
Founder, Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent.com

When the multilingual Coke ad came under siege at first I couldn’t be bothered to listen to the noise, because that’s all it was to me — misguided rumbling that didn’t deserve attention. But as the #speakamerican clamor crowded headlines and my twitter stream, I knew our children were the ones who had the most powerful message for us all.

Bilingualism is the proud voice of the U.S. with a growing percentage of children growing up bilingual and multilingual. For these kids, bilingualism is just as American as French fries, apple pies and pizza. And then add in some curry, tagine and tamales too. Currently one in five households, including my own, speak a language other than English at home. And those statistics don’t even count the speakers of English at home that are learning a new language at school. There are over 530 immersion schools in this country and demand for them is outpacing supply in many communities. When I hear polemics about English only, it confounds me why so many see language in zero-sum terms. English can and does peacefully coexist together with hundreds of other languages, as it always has. English-only discourses are a rearview mirror perspective of our nation, one that fails to confront the reality of the present or consider the future of our country in the context of a globalized world.

Speaking another language is not a threat to the fabric of the U.S. — it is the very thread that makes the fabric beautiful. And more than that, it is the thread that when woven together gives us strength. So let’s stop looking in the rearview mirror and start considering the America that will lead us into the future.

What language does America speak? English and over 300 other languages.

I speak English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. I’ve studied Russian, Japanese and German. And I’m learning Arabic.

#ispeakamerican

What languages do you speak?

* Please note: We tried very hard to find a Native American language to represent in our clip, and regret we could not find one in time. There were also many other languages we wanted to include, and it was strictly a matter of timing that we couldn’t represent more.

This video was originally published on InCultureParent, an online magazine for parents raising little global citizens.

Follow Stephanie Meade on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/incultureparent

no numbers

The Pirahã are an indigenous people, numbering around 700, living along the banks of the Maici River in the jungle of northwest Brazil. Their language, also called Pirahã, is so unusual in so many ways that it was profiled in 2007 in a 12,000-word piece in the New Yorker by John Colapinto, who wrote:

Unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just eight consonants and three vowels, Pirahã has one of the simplest sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle conversations.

Among Pirahã’s many peculiarities is an almost complete lack of numeracy, an extremely rare linguistic trait of which there are only a few documented cases. The language contains no words at all for discrete numbers and only three that approximate some notion of quantity—hói, a “small size or amount,” hoí, a “somewhat larger size or amount,” and baágiso, which can mean either to “cause to come together” or “a bunch.”

With no way to express exact integers, the obvious question is: How do the Pirahã count? More pragmatically, how do they ask for two of something instead of just one? The answer—according to some of the more recent research on anumeracy, published by anthropological linguist Caleb Everett in the journal Cognitive Science—suggests, almost inconceivably, that they don’t.

Everett, the son of Christian missionaries turned linguists, lived on and off with the Pirahã during his early childhood. His parents, he told me, speak Pirahã as fluently as any Westerners ever have, though for a non-native speaker to master the language is a near impossibility. A couple of years ago, Everett traveled back to the Pirahã villages to run a few very simple experiments.

For one test, he would lay down on a table a line of evenly spaced items, say batteries, and ask the Pirahã to make a second line just like the first. For another, he would show someone a line of items and then hide it from view. Again, he would ask for a second line just like the first. In both cases, no mistakes were made as long as the lines were just two or three items long. But, as Everett wrote in his paper, “The proportion of correct responses generally drops significantly for numbers exceeding 2 or 3.” This was true for all tasks, including a non-visual test that involved clapping. English speakers, on the other hand, make no errors at all, except when a relatively long line of items, say seven or more, is shown quickly and then hidden. We can only count so fast, after all, but the Pirahã appear not to be counting at all—because, well, how could they? Instead, they’re employing what Everett calls an “analog estimation strategy,” which works well for a few items but breaks down beyond that.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps the Pirahã never needed numbers, either because precise counting is not culturally valued or because that value has a sufficient, anumeric workaround. Nothing about the Pirahã’s self-contained way of life seems to require quantity recognition over three, says Everett, a fact that’s not lost on outsiders, who sometimes take advantage of them when trading goods. Attempts over the years to teach number words and basic arithmetic to the Pirahã have met with little success, in large part because they’re uninterested. In fact, the Pirahã have a term for all languages not their own; it translates as “crooked head,” which is intended as a “clear pejorative,” as Colapinto points out:

The Pirahã consider all forms of human discourse other than their own to be laughably inferior, and they are unique among Amazonian peoples in remaining monolingual.

In our increasingly data-driven culture, where we reincarnate ourselves more and more as spreadsheets, anumeracy is unthinkable. Many fear, amid the “advanced stats” revolution in all aspects of life, that what it means to be and feel human is forever changing, and not for the better. It’s perhaps comforting to know, then, that while we’re busy charting our heart rate and measuring our intake and poring over the wins above replacement values for our fantasy league, the Pirahã, immune to the relentless tyranny of numbers, will simply enjoy the game.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2013/10/16/piraha_cognitive_anumeracy_in_a_language_without_numbers.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

prairie_dog_language_jpg_662x0_q100_crop-scale

You might not think it to look at them, but prairie dogs and humans actually share an important commonality — and it’s not just their complex social structures, or their habit of standing up on two feet (aww, like people). As it turns out, prairie dogs actually have one of the most sophisticated forms of vocal communication in the natural world, really not so unlike our own.

After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that praire dogs aren’t only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.

According to Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who turned his vocalization analysis on the Gunnison’s prairie dog of Arizona and New Mexico, the chirps these animals use as ‘alert calls’ are actually word-like packages of information to share with the rest of the colony. Amazingly, these unique sounds were found to both identify specific threats by species, such as hawks and coyotes, and to point out descriptive information about their appearance.

And, when they’re talking about humans, that might not always be flattering.

“For example, a human alarm call not only contains information about the intruder being a human, but also contains information about the size, shape (thin or fat), and color of clothes the human is wearing,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff.

“When we do an experiment where the same person walks out into a prairie dog colony wearing different colored t-shirts at different times, the prairie dogs will have alarm calls that contain the same description of the person’s size and shape, but will vary in their description of the color.”

While there’s still much to learn about how other animals use organized vocalizations to communicate, Dr. Slobodchikoff has been a pioneer in the field — discovering complex language systems in a variety of other species as well. And with that, perhaps we humans will begin to change our perspective on our place in the world, knowing now that ours is not the only voice to be heard.

http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/researcher-decodes-praire-dog-language-discovers-theyve-been-calling-people-fat.html