The story of the strange language of the Pirahã is just as much a story about the state of the field of linguistics. Professor Dan Everett of Illinois State University, who lived for decades with the Pirahã, first as a missionary, then as a linguist, believes Pirahã casts serious doubt upon Chomsky's theory of universal grammar. Chomskyites have started to fight back with a reassessment of Everett's famous paper on the Pirahã, where he claimed that the Pirahã "have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition." He also claims that it doesn't have recursion, a feature of language Chomsky recently claimed was the defining feature of human speech. Dan Everett has rebutted the Chomskyite reassessment of his work. Video interview with Professor Everett. [Pirahã previously covered on MetaFilter in 2004 and 2006]
Recursion and Human Thought - Why the Piraha don't have numbers
100 words every high school graduate should know (according to the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries).
"50,000 Years of Resilience May Not Save Tribe." A deal to provide a member of the UAE royal family with a personal Tanzanian playground may be the final nail in the coffin for the remaining 1,500 members of the ancient Hadzabe people and their unique language. Read a Westerner's account of living among the Hadzabe here.
Evan M. O'Dorney, a 13-year-old speller from Danville, Calif., won the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, with the final word "serrefine". Here is an interesting interview with the winner. Did you say my name wrong?
Happy Blue Moon! A dear friend IM'd me today, and told me it was blue moon... which was funny, because we had just been talking about it the day before — oblivious of tonight's occurance. Don't know what a blue moon is? Well, wikipedia has the answer, of course... In the mood for a little music? Well, you can always download the The Marcels classic or just sing the song yourself with a little help... or throw caution to the wind, and listen to Pink Moon instead.
Learn Spanish with podcasts from SpanishSense.
a fascinating short timely rectangular (due to the CSS box model) white-on-blue American pixel-based educational post (about adjectives)
"The old, mean man" vs. "The mean old man." Here's an aspect of English (and other languages) I've never thought of before. If you're using a string of adjectives, there's a natural order for them to appear in: "opinion :: size :: age :: shape :: color :: origin :: material :: purpose". (Although I find "old, mean," due to it's strange order, sort of striking.) [more info: 1, 2, 3]
Written Chinese may be older than we thought. Chinese archaeologists think that anicent cliff wall carvings may may take the history of Chinese characters back to 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
dotSUB s a resource and gathering place for subtitling films from one language into many languages using our unique subtitling tools. These tools expand the power and reach of films by making it possible for people to view and enjoy films in their native languages. It is very easy to use and has many languages.
When memes have sex, they produce inbred monstrosities. It began with just an innocent South Park pilot and a fat kid's weird way of saying "kitty". Then, the Engrish meme met the L33t meme over for dinner. But their pal, the Cat Macros meme, broke in at gunpoint. The product of this unholy threeway union? LOL-Kitteh, a new 'speak' guaranteeing illegibility to future generations, transforming "that cute cat has a bow on its head" to "Omg him gotz da bowwagez on himz hed lyk WTF?!?" Learn how to make me want to leap through my monitor to kill you with ICanHasCheezBurger's handy five-step tutorial to transform English into LOL-Kitteh (using Engrish and l33t as guides).
Embrace the Suck. Intensive military activity creates an incubator for slang. By bringing together people from geographically diverse backgrounds, putting them into stressful circumstances, and teaching them a new language of jargon and acronym, the armed forces create fertile ground for new idioms - many of which return home in civvies when the conflicts are over. In the Civil War, World War I and World War II, in Korea and in Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like shoddy, hotshot, cooties, tailspin, fleabag, face time, joystick, SNAFU, FUBAR, flaky, gung ho, no sweat, flame-out, and many, many others. Now, the GWOT brings us a new generation of 'milspeak'. Military columnist Austin Bay has published an early collection of neologisms from Gulf War II. On NPR, Bay explains what The Suck is, how to identify a fobbit, and why Marines look down on the attitude of Semper I.
Archaic English Project: "The primary goal of the Archaic English Project was the resurrection of favorite archaic English words."Also, A Concise Dictionary of Middle English. A few Middle English texts. Harvard's Chaucer website
Life-size blue whale. A Flash project from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. And in other news: Secret Language of Whales Revealed! [Via MammalFilter.]
Language in Common thinks about quitting[pdf]. Or starting a new job at your old job[pdf]. Or becoming a better lover[pdf]. At work. And they notice that others are thinking too.
Belief and knowledge - a primer on science communication
"Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?"
White-o-glyphics. The idea: "If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?" Matthew White makes the effort to find out.
IntraText Digital Library - a few thousand texts in English and many other languages in a heavily hyperlinked concordance format.
A Tranquil Star...for a discussion of stars our language is inadequate and seems laughable, as if someone were trying to plow with a feather. (via)
On walls and pavements in cities around the world you may encounter poetry.
Pompous Ass Words is a site dedicated to identifying words that shouldn't be used, on the grounds that doing so makes you sound like a pompous ass. With humorous citations and links to examples of pompous word usage by the media.
Oddcast's Text To Speech Demos let you type in words in 14 different languages. Hear thick accents if you enter English or learn how to pronounce that word you always say wrong in Spanish.
An autistic woman "speaks" her language, then ours. (YouTube) "My language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment, reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings." [more inside]
"No spreck-a de Irish, no." When the EU added Irish to its list of 'working languages', most press reports cited the 2002 census in which a third of the population claimed 'an ability' to speak the first official language. Manchán Magan, a broadcaster for Irish-language TG4, decided to put those claims to the test, by travelling across the island speaking nothing but its ancestral tongue -- to shop assistants, tourist information staff, and even phone sex operators.
Wordie: social networking... for words. Catalog your favourite (or least favourite) words — make any variety of word lists, and connect to other users using the same words. Silly, but fun!
John Humphrys is a militant grammarian: "We all care about language. Your concern may be different from the young hoodie's." On the other hand, he may have a point: "The simple fact is we cannot afford to be careless with our language, because if we are careless with our language then we are careless with our world and sooner or later we will be lost for words to describe what we have allowed to happen to it." (via)
Pope Benedict XVI wants to bring back the latin mass. This could be the start of a return to the old Catholic traditionalism and the undoing of Vatican II.
In 1974 Alexander Lipson wrote an excellent Russian language textbook: scanned highlights, complete book. However, its value goes beyond the merely pedagogical. via our very own metafilter udarnik languagehat.
The end of cursive? When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters. "Cursive -- that is so low on the priority list, we really could care less. We are much more concerned that these kids pass their SOLs [standardized tests]."
More languages are in danger than ever, but some argue that this is no big deal. Is language extinction only worrisome because it means a loss of diversity?
The Tao Te Ching in dozens of languages and translations, with a lovely side-by-side comparison tool.
Que would happen if, wenn Du open your Metafilter, finde eine message in esta lingua? No est Englando, no est Germano, no est Espano, no est keine known lingua - aber Du understande! Wat happen zo! Habe your computero eine virus catched? Habe Du sudden BSE gedeveloped? No, Du esse lezendo la neue europese lingua: de Europanto!
Forgotten vocabulary. Words and phrases from an earlier era, the early Nineteenth century. Some slang too. (via the Presurfer)
Write your name in Tengwar, the Elvish language/alphabet created by JRR Tolkien. You can work with Tengwar fonts based on Middle Earth languages and runes and see many examples of the script via a Google Image search. According to Tolkien, "there is quite a bit of linguistic wisdom in it." There are certainly websites devoted to his languages and thier history. And It took some thought and work to make the speech sound right in the movies.
The Ecology of Magic is the abbreviated first chapter of David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous. Abram explores the intersection of phenomenology, synesthesia and linguistics to discover the magic of the alphabet, the sacred winds, and ultimately, the root of animism. Abram finds the locus of these superstitions not in an imagined metaphysical sphere, but rooted in our sensuous experience of the world around us. He attributes much of our cavalier attitude towards our environment to our separation from our own experience, and ultimately, our loss of magic. "The fate of the earth depends on a return to our senses."
Raed Jarrar was coming home from Jordan wearing a T-shirt with the phrase "We will not be silent" in Arabic script and English. Other JetBlue passengers who could not read the Arabic were "offended" and she was apprehended by security and asked to replace it. She also had her seat changed to the back of the plane. Variations on T-shirt airline censorship have happened before, but, taken to extremes, the fear of foreign language has spawned some unpleasant nights. Where is the line drawn? And where is the path to multicultural reconciliation?
Next step: English Video helping kids learn roman script
Fascination with ground and figure carries on in various fields after The Rubin vase / face Illusion, M.C. Escher, and Marshall McLuhan. Besides being extremely important in the fields of photography and poetry, the figure/ground relationship is important to physicist Paul Davies, who says "the true miracle of nature is to be found in the ingenious and unswerving lawfulness of the cosmos, a lawfulness that permits complex order to emerge from chaos, life to emerge from inanimate matter, and consciousness to emerge from life." Also, Peter Grundy and Yiang Yan discuss how contextual ground relates to linguistic figure in Bill Clinton's famous apology, Andrew Graydon plays with the distinction between sound as environment and sound as music, and W.C. Richardson creates paintings in which "positive and negative spaces seem unstable; figure becomes ground, ground becomes figure."
The origins and evolution of human intelligence: parasitic insects? viruses? mushrooms? neural darwinism? foraging? machiavellian competition? emergence? or something else?
NJ Mayor calls Spanish-language ad "offensive." Linguistics professor Geoffrey Pollum says "Wtf, mate?"
The Human Speechome Project - "A baby is to be monitored by a network of microphones and video cameras for 14 hours a day, 365 days a year, in an effort to unravel the seemingly miraculous process by which children acquire language.". Selected video clips. Paper (PDF, 750KB). To test hypotheses of how children learn, Prof Deb Roy's team at MIT will develop machine learning systems that “step into the shoes” of his son by processing the sights and sounds of three years of life at home. Total storage required: 1.4 petabytes.