Is There Awareness Behind Vegetative States?
Imagine that a loved one, let’s say your brother, has suffered a serious brain injury. After languishing in a coma, he finally “emerges”—that is, he cycles between sleep and wakefulness, yanks his hand away when it’s pricked, is startled by loud noises, and so on. But it’s not clear that he’s ever truly awake; his […]
Rachel Dolezal & the Science of “Sounding Black”
Unless you’ve been on a media blackout this summer, you likely have heard the story of civil-rights activist Rachel Dolezal, an ethnically white woman who has long presented herself as black. The story provoked curiosity and controversy, prompting some to object that she was clothing herself in a racial identity that was not rightfully hers. […]
Mumbling Isn’t a Sign of Laziness—It’s a Clever Data-Compression Trick
Many of us have been taught that pronouncing vowels indistinctly and dropping consonants are symptoms of slovenly speech, if not outright disregard for the English language. The Irish playwright St. John Ervine viewed such habits as evidence that some speakers are “weaklings too languid and emasculated to speak their noble language with any vigor.” If […]
We All Used to Be Geniuses
To adults learning a second language, it hardly seems fair: As they stumble their way through conjugation drills, fret over grammar textbooks, and fill in worksheets on constructing subordinate clauses, their children sop up the language while finger painting at preschool. Within months, correct syntax pours itself out of the tykes’ mouths, involving no […]
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.Brian Goodman via 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 spring from […]
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 […]