Language and Scripts in The News





The 'myth' of language history: Languages do not share a single history   PhysOrg - October 3, 2017
The 'myth' of language history: languages do not share a single history but different components evolve along different trajectories and at different rates.A large-scale study of Pacific languages reveals that forces driving grammatical change are different to those driving lexical change. Grammar changes more rapidly and is especially influenced by contact with unrelated languages, while words are more resistant to change. Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-myth-language-history-languages.html#jCp




Language development starts in the womb   Science Daily - July 18, 2017
A month before they are born, fetuses carried by American mothers-to-be can distinguish between someone speaking to them in English and Japanese. Using non-invasive sensing technology for the first time for this purpose, a group of researchers has shown this in-utero language discrimination. Their study has implications for fetal research in other fields.




Why Do Human Beings Speak So Many Languages?   Scientific American - July 17, 2017
The thatched roof held back the sunÕs rays, but it could not keep the tropical heat at bay. As everyone at the research workshop headed outside for a break, small groups splintered off to gather in the shade of coconut trees and enjoy a breeze. I wandered from group to group, joining in the discussions. Each time, I noticed that the language of the conversation would change from an indigenous language to something they knew I could understand, Bislama or English. I was amazed by the ease with which the meetingÕs participants switched between languages, but I was even more astonished by the number of different indigenous languages.




Uncovering Ancient Ashkenaz - the Birthplace of Yiddish Speakers   Epoch Times - May 8, 2016
At 1,000 years, the search for the location of Ashkenaz - thought to be the birthplace of Ashkanazic Jews and the Yiddish language - is one of the longest quests in human history. It is perhaps second only in length to the search for Noah's Ark which began in the 3rd century AD. The place name Ashkenaz occurs three times in the Bible, but by the Middle Ages the exact origin of Ashkenaz was forgotten. Because of the migration of the Ashkenazic Jews it later became associated with Germany. This led to all German Jews being considered Ashkenazic, a term which was then applied to central and eastern European Jews who follow Ashkenazic religious customs and who speak Yiddish.




F-bombs notwithstanding, all languages skew toward happiness: Universal human bias for positive words   Science Daily - February 10, 2015
Arabic movie subtitles, Korean tweets, Russian novels, Chinese websites, English lyrics, and even the war-torn pages of the New York Times -- research examining billions of words, shows that these sources -- and all human language -- skews toward the use of happy words. This Big Data study confirms the 1969 Pollyanna Hypothesis that there is a universal human tendency to "look on and talk about the bright side of life."




The Last Hieroglyphic Language on Earth and an Ancient Culture Fighting to Survive   Epoch Times - October 22, 2014

The Dongba symbols are an ancient system of pictographic glyphs created by the founder of the Bon religious tradition of Tibet and used by the Naxi people in southern China. Historical records show that this unique script was used as early as the 7th century, during the early Tang Dynasty, however, research conducted last year showed that its origins may date back as far as 7,000 years ago. Incredibly, the Dongba symbols continue to be used by the elders of the Naxi people, making it the only hieroglyphic language still used in the world today. The Naxi people lived in the beautiful mountain province of Yunnan (south of the clouds) for thousands of years, where they developed their own rich and enduring culture. Today, most of the 270,000 Naxi people live in the county of Lijiang where they retain many of their ancient traditions.

Naxi Language   Wikipedia

Naxi People   Wikipedia




Talking Neanderthals challenge the origins of speech   Science Daily - March 3, 2014
We humans like to think of ourselves as unique for many reasons, not least of which being our ability to communicate with words. But ground-breaking research shows that our 'misunderstood cousins,' the Neanderthals, may well have spoken in languages not dissimilar to the ones we use today. Pinpointing the origin and evolution of speech and human language is one of the longest running and most hotly debated topics in the scientific world. It has long been believed that other beings, including the Neanderthals with whom our ancestors shared Earth for thousands of years, simply lacked the necessary cognitive capacity and vocal hardware for speech.




Language and Tool-Making Skills Evolved at the Same Time   Live Science - September 3, 2013
Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time. Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.




Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years'   The Guardian - July 10, 2013

Markings on artifacts from Zhuangqiao relics site date to 5,000 years ago and include string of words, says archaeologist. A stone axe from near the Zhuangqiao relics site, in east China, shows a newly discovered form of primitive writing, archaeologists say. Primitive inscriptions dating back about 5,000 years - and believed to be 1,400 years older than the most ancient written Chinese language - have been discovered in Shanghai, archaeologists report. Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings, found on artIfacts at the Zhuangqiao relics site south of the modern city, are words or something simpler. But they believe the discovery will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture. The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia (now Iraq), dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently. The Chinese inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the neolithic Liangzhu relics site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, Xu Xinmin, the lead archaeologist, said.




Ancient Inscription From King Solomon's Time Unearthed   Live Science - July 10, 2013

A shard of pottery unearthed near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem bears an inscription that dates to the 10th century B.C. The inscription is the oldest alphabetic text found in Jerusalem and predates the earliest found Hebrew inscription in the region by 250 years. The enigmatic letters, which wrap around the top of a neck-less ceramic jar, were written around the time of King David or King Solomon's reign in an early form of Canaanite, not Hebrew. As a result, archaeologists believe a Jebusite or some other non-Israelite tribe member wrote the inscription. At that time, the Israelites hadn't yet conquered the region, and Hebrew was not the dominant language of the day. The area around Jerusalem is teeming with archaeological relics. An 11th century B.C. temple found near Jerusalem reveals evidence of fighting between Canaanites, Israelites and Philistines.




Inscription dates back to King David Š but what does it say?   MSNBC - July 10, 2013
Israeli archaeologists say a 3,000-year-old fragment of a ceramic jar found near Jerusalem's Temple Mount, dating back to the days of King David and King Solomon, bears a mysterious inscription that ranks as the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in the city. The inscription is incised into the clay of a neckless ceramic jar found at Jerusalem's Ophel excavation site. The text is in the Canaanite language, which predates Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script. From left to right, the letters translate to M, Q, P, H, N, possibly L, and N.




European and Asian languages traced back to single mother tongue   The Guardian - May 6, 2013
Eurasiatic languages from Portugal to Siberia form 'superfamily' with root in southern Europe 15,000 years ago, scientists claim. Languages spoken by billions of people across Europe and Asia are descended from an ancient tongue uttered in southern Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to research. The claim, by scientists in Britain, points to a common origin for vocabularies as varied as English and Urdu, Japanese and Itelmen, a language spoken along the north-eastern edge of Russia.




Before Babel? Ancient Mother Tongue Reconstructed   Live Science - May 6, 2013

The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests. Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as "mother," "to pull" and "man," which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucusus. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.




Evolutionary linguistics   Wikipedia
Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves practically no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century. Since the late 1980s, the field has been revived in the wake of progress made in the related fields of psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, evolutionary anthropology, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science.




Survival of the fittest: Linguistic evolution in practice   PhysOrg - December 9, 2011
A new study of how compound word formation is influenced by subtle forms of linguistic pressure demonstrates that words which "sound better" to the speakers of a language have a higher chance of being created, suggesting that, like biological organisms, words are subject to selection pressures that play a role in deciding which words become part of a language over time.




Language universality idea tested with biology method   BBC - April 15, 2011
A long-standing idea that human languages share universal features that are dictated by human brain structure has been cast into doubt. A study has borrowed methods from evolutionary biology to trace the development of grammar in several language families. The results suggest that features shared across language families evolved independently in each lineage.




Indian language is new to science   BBC - October 5, 2010
Researchers have identified a language new to science in a remote region of India. Known as Koro, it appears to be distinct from other languages in the family to which it belongs; but it is also under threat. Koro was discovered by a team of linguists on an expedition to Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India.




  "Lost" Language Found   National Geographic - October 5, 2010
A language previously unknown to linguists, and spoken by about 800 people has been documented in the mountains of northeast India. Researchers with National Geographic's Enduring Voices project recorded the Koro language for the first time.




Faces of Koro: Photos of "Lost" Language's Last Speakers   National Geographic - October 5, 2010
In India's remote Arunachal Pradesh, linguist Gregory Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, makes one of the first ever recordings of the "hidden" language Koro, whose existence was announced Tuesday. Koro speakers' language is as different from that of their neighbors as English is from Japanese, yet Koro has only now been scientifically documented as its own tongue.




"Lost" Language Found on Back of 400-Year-Old Letter   National Geographic - August 27, 2010

Native Peruvian language rediscovered in remains of church. Notes on the back of a 400-year-old letter have revealed a previously unknown language once spoken by indigenous peoples of northern Peru, an archaeologist says. Penned by an unknown Spanish author and lost for four centuries, the battered piece of paper was pulled from the ruins of an ancient Spanish colonial church in 2008. But a team of scientists and linguists has only recently revealed the importance of the words written on the flip side of the letter.




Ancient language mystery deepens   BBC - August 11, 2010

A linguistic mystery has arisen surrounding symbol-inscribed stones in Scotland that predate the formation of the country itself. The stones are believed to have been carved by members of an ancient people known as the Picts, who thrived in what is now Scotland from the 4th to the 9th Centuries. These symbols, researchers say, are probably "words" rather than images.




Tip-of-the-Tongue Moments Explained   Live Science - February 25, 2010
It's one of the most frustrating feelings: You know the word exists, and you know what it means, but you just can't spit it out. New research suggests the forgetfulness may have to do with how frequently we use certain words. The findings could help scientists understand more about how the brain organizes and remembers language.For insight into the phenomenon, researchers tested people who speak two languages, as well as deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.




Nouns and verbs are learned in different parts of the brain   PhysOrg - February 25, 2010
Two Spanish psychologists and a German neurologist have recently shown that the brain that activates when a person learns a new noun is different from the part used when a verb is learnt. The scientists observed this using brain images taken using functional magnetic resonance, according to an article they have published this month in the journal Neuroimage.




Human Speech Gene Found   Live Science - November 11, 2009
Researchers have found a gene that could explain why we developed language and speech while our closest living relatives, the chimps, did not. The gene called FOXP2 is a transcription factor, meaning it regulates other genes. Past research has suggested this gene remained relatively unchanged along mammal evolution until after humans and chimps diverged. And about 200,000 years ago, when modern humans appeared on the scene, scientists think two amino acids (building blocks of proteins) changed in FOXP2. But whether that amino-acid modification had any real effect on us wasn't known. To find out, a team of researchers expressed the chimp and human forms of this speech gene in neuronal cells that essentially didn't express the gene, or make proteins that carry out that gene's instructions. They found 116 genes that were expressed differently in humans compared with chimps, suggesting FOXP2 is responsible for those differences, the researchers say.




What Happens When a Language Dies?   National Geographic - February 26, 2009
India is extraordinary for its linguistic and cultural diversity. According to official estimates, the country is home to at least 400 distinct tongues, but many experts believe the actual number is probably around 700.




'Oldest English words' identified   BBC - February 26, 2009
Some of the oldest words in English have been identified, scientists say. Reading University researchers claim "I", "we", "two" and "three" are among the most ancient, dating back tens of thousands of years. Their computer model analyses the rate of change of words in English and the languages that share a common heritage. The team says it can predict which words are likely to become extinct - citing "squeeze", "guts", "stick" and "bad" as probable first casualties.




Siberian, Native American Languages Linked -- A First National Geographic - March 27, 2008
A fast-dying language in remote central Siberia shares a mother tongue with dozens of Native American languages spoken thousands of miles away.




Language Feature Unique To Human Brain Identified Science Daily - March 24, 2008
To explore the evolution of human language, Yerkes researcher James Rilling, PhD, and his colleagues studied the arcuate fasciculus, a pathway that connects brain regions known to be involved in human language, such as Broca's area in the frontal lobe and Wernicke's area in the temporal lobe. Using DTI, researchers compared the size and trajectory of the arcuate fasciculus in humans, rhesus macaques and chimpanzees.




Siberian, Native American Languages Linked -- A First National Geographic - March 27, 2008
A fast-dying language in remote central Siberia shares a mother tongue with dozens of Native American languages spoken thousands of miles away, new research confirms. The finding may allow linguists to weigh in on how the Americas were first settled, according to Edward Vajda, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham.




Languages Racing to Extinction in 5 Global "Hotspots" National Geographic - September 18, 2007
From Alaska to Australia, hundreds of languages around the world are teetering on the brink of extinction-some being spoken only by a single person, according to a new study. The research has revealed five hotspots where languages are vanishing most rapidly: eastern Siberia, northern Australia, central South America, Oklahoma, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. "Languages are undergoing a global extinction crisis that greatly exceeds the pace of species extinction," said David Harrison, a linguistics professor at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College.

  Video: Last Speaker of "Extinct" Language Found National Geographic - September 18, 2007




'Oldest' New World writing found National Geographic - September 15, 2006

A writing system lost for 3,000 years has been rediscovered on an ancient stone tablet in Mexico.




Writing traced to nature, ancient shapes   MSNBC - April 25, 2006
The shapes of letters in all languages are derived from common forms in nature, according to a new hypothesis. The idea, in some ways seemingly obvious and innately human, arose however from a study of how robots see the world. Robots employ object recognition technology to navigate a room by recognizing contours. A corner is seen as a "Y," for example, and a wall is recognized by the L-shape it makes where it meets the floor.




English sounds like one language, but it's really not   PhysOrg - July 12, 2005
Americans need to realize that English as they know it is not what the rest of the world knows, says a Purdue University English language expert.




How different languages reflect, and shape, our conception of time   Guardian - February 23, 2005
For the Aymara people living in the Andes, the past lies ahead and the future lies behind. Laura Spinney looks at how different languages reflect, and shape, our conception of time. The old man shields his eyes against the fierce light of the Altiplano and considers the question. When he talks about his ancestors, does he mean the Incas? No, he replies in a sort of Spanish creole, he means his great-great-grandfather. And with his right hand he makes a rotating gesture up and forwards from his body. The Incas, he adds, came way earlier. And with the same hand he sweeps even further forward, towards the mountains on the horizon.




New Language Points To Foundations Of Human Grammar Science Daily - February 1, 2005
How is a language born? What are its essential elements? Linguists are gaining new insights into these age-old conundrums from a language created in a small village in Israel's Negev Desert. The Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL), which serves as an alternative language of a community of about 3,500 deaf and hearing people, has developed a distinct grammatical structure early in its evolution, researchers report, and the structure favors a particular word order: verbs after objects.




Speaking Tonal Languages Promotes Perfect Pitch   Scientific American - November 9, 2004

A new study concludes that young musicians who speak Mandarin Chinese can learn to identify isolated musical notes much better than English speakers can. Fewer than one American in 10,000 has absolute pitch, which means they can identify or produce a note without reference to any other note. Also called perfect pitch, this skill requires distinguishing sounds that differ by just 6 percent in frequency.




Learning languages 'boosts brain'   BBC - October 2004
Learning a second language "boosts" brain-power, scientists believe. Researchers from University College London studied the brains of 105 people - 80 of whom were bilingual. They found learning other languages altered grey matter - the area of the brain which processes information - in the same way exercise builds muscles.




Children create new sign language   BBC - September 16, 2004
A new sign language created over the last 30 years by deaf children in Nicaragua has given experts a unique insight into how languages evolve. The language follows many basic rules common to all tongues, even though the children were not taught them. It indicates some language traits are not passed on by culture, but instead arise due to the innate way human beings process language, experts claim.




English in Decline as a First Language   National Geographic - February 26, 2004
According to one new study, the percentage of the global population that grew up speaking English as its first language is declining. In addition, an increasing number of people now speak more than one language.




First language gene discovered   BBC - August 14, 2002
Scientists think they have found the first of many genes that gave humans speech. Without it, language and human culture may never have developed. Key changes to a gene in the last 200,000 years of human evolution appear to be the driving force.




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