This week in languages: February 10, 2017

by on February 10, 2017

03/02/2017–10/02/2017

Headlines

The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley’s campus in Edinburg is set to become the first bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate campus in the United States. In an attempt to counter the ‘linguistic terrorism’ of denying the legitimacy of Spanish speakers on the border between Texas and Mexico, the B3 initiative aims to create a safe space for speakers of Spanish to communicate in the language of their choosing.

How did human speech evolve? Scientists studying the consonant-like “kiss squeaks” of orangutans have found that the apes combine different variations of kiss squeaks to make sure their messages are doubly received. “The scientists say their study suggests that, rather than a concerted effort to form complex words, it might have been this “redundancy”—forming different sounds that had the same meaning, in order to reinforce a message—that drove early language evolution.”

[Losing] one of your five senses, such as hearing, can enhance others like sight or smell.” Evidence for this is found in a study from the University of Sheffield, which showed “better peripheral vision and reaction times” in deaf adults than in hearing adults and hearing users of British Sign Language (BSL). Hearing users of BSL, on the other hand, are shown to benefit from improved “peripheral visual sensitivity”, which aid activities such as driving and sports.

Commentaries and Features

“So I’m reporting on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s use of 60 key terms that I believe underlie the article/research. If Trump is more feminine than Clinton, then he should use the feminine words more and she should use the more masculine words. That’s not what we’re going to see.” Tyler Schnoebelen makes a case against the generalisation that US President Trump talks like a woman (in Politico Magazine).

In an evocative blogpost for Literary Hub, Alexandra Burt writes of her complete immersion in English and the unusual attrition loss of fluency in her native German. Though her fluency fades as a result of prolonged disuse, the part of her rooted in her past remains—forest spirits, fairytales, and folk songs. Though now American in every way, her past experiences and memories will never fade completely, she concludes.

Recently, the 10th annual North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad took place at Yale University, allowing over 50 middle and high school students to explore the patterns inherent in all human languages. Participants compete by using “analytical skills to solve linguistic puzzles in languages that they are not familiar with.”

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