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Julie Sedivy

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    Was the Golden Rule Born in the Mind of a Monkey?

    As economic inequality increased in many wealthy nations in recent years, a debate has developed around the question of whether inequality is bad for national economies—and bad for their citizens. A captivating video clip of monkey behavior (see below), taken from a 2011 TED talk by primatologist Frans de Waal, has become a surprising piece of […]

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    Why Campaigns to Change Language Often Backfire

    Opponents of the phrase “car accident” argue that language is intertwined with accountability.Photograph by Alan Poulson Photography / Shutterstock In the first decades of the 20th century, people around the world began succumbing to an entirely new cause of mortality. These new deaths, due to the dangers of the automobile, soon became accepted as a […]

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    Mumbling Isn’t a Sign of Laziness—It’s a Clever Data-Compression Trick

    Far from being a symptom of linguistic indifference or moral decay, mumbling displays an underlying logic similar to the data-compression schemes that are used to create MP3s and JPEGs.Photograph by Everett Collection / Shutterstock Many of us have been taught that pronouncing vowels indistinctly and dropping consonants are symptoms of slovenly speech, if not outright […]

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    Can a Wandering Mind Make You Neurotic?

    The connection between inner thought and neuroticism feeds the myth of the suffering creative genius.Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”) / Wikicommons I have two children, and they are a study in contrasts: My son works at a gym designing and building rock-climbing walls; In his spare time, he climbs them. My daughter […]

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    The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

    The surprising forces influencing the complexity of the language we speak and write.

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    The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist

    In most languages, sounds can be re-arranged into any number of combinations. Not so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.Photograph by Brian Goodman / Shutterstock Languages, like human bodies, come in a variety of shapes—but only to a point. Just as people don’t sprout multiple heads, languages tend to veer away from certain forms that might […]

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    A Linguist Responds to Cormac McCarthy

    If language began as a virus, here’s how it spread.

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    Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?

    Literature’s evolution has reflected and spurred the growing complexity of society.

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    Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?

    Literature’s evolution has reflected and spurred the growing complexity of society.

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    Is There Awareness Behind Vegetative States?

    The answer to a simple question may show if someone’s really “home.”