Tag Archives: Language

U of R boffins find that language evolution is based largely on convenience

Ever wonder why different languages seem to have similar roots and structures? Well you probably haven’t, seeing as most people only speak one language. But a study at University of Rochester has found some discoveries that still might interest you, in which they have established exactly how our brains process language.

A team from U of R and Georgetown University created an experiment in which they made two miniature artificial languages with all new verbs, nouns, and pronouns. In four 45-minute sessions, 40 undergraduate students learned the new language by focusing really hard on studying computer images, animated clips, and audio recordings.

They were then shown a clip and asked to describe it in their new language. When faced with problems in the word structure of this language, they chose to alter it in a way that made them understand it more. From this experiment, the team discovered how the human mind alters and changes language to mold it into what’s clearer and much simpler for them to understand.

These findings also support the idea that people learning new languages make common patterns, or what scholars call “linguistic universals.” Says T. Florian Jaeger, co-author of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Our research shows that humans choose to reshape language when the structure is either overly redundant or confusing. This study suggests that we prefer languages that on average convey information efficiently, striking a balance between effort and clarity.

An article written by Brian Macwhinney supports the study conducted by University of Rochester. In it, Macwhinney talks about language being an instinct constantly changing based on human evolution.

So basically, the human mind can structure language in a way that makes it’s easier for them to process. This can be a reason why many of our human languages are similar. And it makes it easier for us to learn to communicate with each other.

The Noun Project wants to create a universal language of symbols

There have been a number of similar projects over the years, but this is really interesting. The Noun Project aims to create a universal symbolic language to help bridge the language divide. The video makes the interesting argument that symbolic language was first, but verbal communications complicated things. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, since those who knew how to draw were almost certainly at an advantage over their non-communicative neighbors and anyway, verbal language predates written language.

Obama for President, Not Operating Officer

In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Barack Obama points out what a leader is supposed to do: leaders are not meant to understand every single detail of every single issue, they’re supposed to hire and lead a team of experts that know better than him. Crooks and Liars has a link to an interesting discussion of the candidate’s language, and how it relates to how they view their roll in the White House.

My personal feeling – and this probably lends itself to my support for Barack Obama more than anything – is that we need a leader with a vision, not a micro-manager with a clipboard.  Despite my obvious differences with Hillary Clinton, I respect her encyclopedic knowledge of the issues.  And while I suspect her ego would forbid it, I think she’d make a great vice president or close ally to the White House in the Senate.  But in the White House, I suspect she would be like the squelching boss I’ve always hated working for: constantly overseeing every little issue while totally losing sight of the big picture.

I don’t doubt but that Clinton would hire a team of advisers to die for.  But I think Barack Obama could hire the same team and get better results.  Just a gut feeling based on personal experience.