The Strange Persistence of First Languages
After my father died, my journey of rediscovery began with the Czech language.
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 […]