language

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Our Languages May Have More in Common Than We Thought

New findings challenge long-held theories about languages forming independently

(Newser) - About 100 years ago, one of the founders of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, wrote that the relationship between the sounds we make and the concepts they signify are arbitrary. Many have long agreed. But now the inherent randomness of human language is being challenged by a large new study... More »

Doling Out Fake Praise? Your Dog Knows

They consider words, tone when processing language: study

(Newser) - Score one for the "dogs are better than cats" camp: New research suggests dogs truly understand their owners—not just the words they speak, but also their tone of speaking. Researchers at Hungary's Eotvos Lorand University measured the brain activity of 13 pet dogs as a trainer repeated... More »

You Don't Know as Many Words as You Think You Do

Maybe about 42K if you're a 20-year-old, slightly more if you're older—but definitely not 200K

(Newser) - You don't have to be a lexicographer to have a pretty ample lexicon—but your word knowledge still may not be as ample as you think. At least, that's according to a Ghent University study published in the Frontiers in Psychology , said to be the largest ever of... More »

Our Presidential Candidates All Sound the Same

New research shows they're saying different things in basically the same way

(Newser) - Think there aren't a lot of similarities between a Trump speech and a Clinton speech? Think again. Rosario Signorello, who's spent two years studying what makes for charismatic speech, analyzed 36 speeches from Trump, Clinton, Sanders, and Fiorina, according to a press release . He found that politicians sound... More »

This Stone May Be Key to Mysterious Yet Influential Ancient Culture

Little survives of the Etruscans, who helped shape ancient Rome and Greece

(Newser) - The Etruscans, a massively influential culture admired by both ancient Greeks and Romans, are largely a mystery to us today because much of their writing has perished, Ars Technica reports. That may change with a 500-pound slab of sandstone containing 70 letters and punctuation marks from the Etruscan language discovered... More »

Regardless of Language, We All Understand This Face

The 'not face' is universal sign of disapproval: scientists

(Newser) - You've seen it when someone disagrees with you: a furrowed brow, tight lips, and raised chin. It's a face that means, basically, no—and it's actually universal. The same team of researchers that identified these 21 facial expressions say the "not face" is used so instinctively... More »

Stop Using '-Splain' as a Suffix

It's a 'lazy joke,' Katy Waldman writes for Slate

(Newser) - "Mansplain"—the act of a man explaining something to someone, typically a woman, "in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing"—has been a part of our vernacular for a few years now. But writing for Slate , Katy Waldman says "-splain" itself has since become... More »

French Outraged by Spelling Shake-Up

Officials changed the spellings of 2,400 words to make them easier for children

(Newser) - France is in uproar over reports that the official spellings of 2,400 words are being changed to make them less confusing for schoolchildren just learning the language, the Guardian reports. For example, "ognon" is now a fine way to spell onion in addition to the more familiar "... More »

Linguists Spot Surprising Trait in Disney Princesses

Today's speak less of the dialogue than in the classic films

(Newser) - It might seem like an easy generalization to say that female characters in modern Disney films are a more enlightened bunch than those of the Snow White and Cinderella variety. Which is why two linguists who are crunching data on a dozen of the animated movies going back to the... More »

Why Australians Talk Funny: Drunk Forefathers?

Professor makes his case

(Newser) - A communications professor in Australia has caused quite a stir Down Under with a public complaint that almost everyone there talks like drunks. In tracing the origins of the Australian accent in the Age , Dean Frenkel of Victoria University describes its Aboriginal, English, Irish, and German roots. So far, so... More »

Whistled Language Brings Surprising Brain Discovery

People must use both sides of their brain to understand it, a first

(Newser) - The rapidly disappearing "bird language" that is spoken—or whistled, actually—by about 10,000 residents in the mountains of Turkey is changing the way scientists think about language and the brain. The left hemisphere has always been dominant when interpreting language, be it spoken, written, signed, or even... More »

This Man Speaks More Languages Than Most People Can Name

Translator Ioannis Ikonomou knows 32 languages and isn't done yet

(Newser) - In English, it's polyglot. In Greek, or Hindi, or Hebrew, the word for someone who knows several languages is, well, ask Ioannis Ikonomou. The New Statesman profiles the 50-year-old translator for the European Commission in Brussels: He knows 32 languages, and that's just the living ones. After learning... More »

Bonobos Have This in Common With Human Babies

They too use identical noises that function in various contexts

(Newser) - Humans aren't the only species to speak baby talk, apparently. A new study published in the journal Peer J finds our closest living relatives communicate using high-pitched calls or "peeps" strangely similar to the sounds made by human babies before they can talk. Researcher Zanna Clay of the... More »

University of NH: Don't Use Words Like 'Rich,' 'American'

Go with 'person of material wealth' who is a 'resident of the US'

(Newser) - The University of New Hampshire has created a " Bias-Free Language Guide ," which it says "is not a means to censor but ... presents practical revisions in our common usage that can ... break barriers relating to diversity." It includes a long list of "problematic/outdated" words, along with... More »

Women, Stop Using This Word at Work

'Just'

(Newser) - Women, enough with the word "just." In a post at LinkedIn , Google alum and entrepreneur Ellen Petry Leanse makes the case that women use the word much more often than men in the workplace—to their own detriment. It's a weak word, she argues, and it makes... More »

Guess Which Country Has 2nd-Most Spanish Speakers

Mexico has the most, with 121 million

(Newser) - Not speaking or studying Spanish yet? Then this might inspire you: The US now has the second-largest Spanish-speaking population outside of Mexico, according to a new study reported in the Guardian . According to Instituto Cervantes , a non-profit that promotes Spanish language and culture, the US now has 41 million native... More »

You Guys, Stop Saying 'You Guys'

Vox writer says oft-used phrase promotes sexism, even if it's not intentional

(Newser) - Jenee Desmond-Harris admits that she used to start many of her social media posts with the informal and conversational "you guys" greeting, and her initial reaction to the idea of banishing the phrase was "oh, come on." But now she's ready to purge the popular phrase... More »

Did Science Just Discover a New Shakespeare Play?

Psych theory and text-analyzing software show 'Double Falsehood' may be Bard's

(Newser) - Did William Shakespeare pen Double Falsehood after all? Texas researchers say he probably did after comparing the play to "psychological signatures" they worked up for the Bard, Lewis Theobald (the supposed author), and Shakespeare contemporary John Fletcher. The study, published in Psychological Science , used text-analyzing software and psychological theory... More »

Let's End the 'War' Against Cancer

It's time to 'lay down our weapons,' writers say

(Newser) - We can "stand up to" it, "fight" it, "beat" it, and even "survive" it, but does this macho language help us deal with cancer? No way, say David Hauser and Richard Wassersug: "Not only has the military motif not led to a cure for the... More »

North, South Korea Languages Drifting Apart

After 7 decades, about one-third of words are different

(Newser) - On one side of the line that has divided two societies for so long, the words arrive as fast as globalization can bring them—English-based lingo like "shampoo," ''juice," and "self-service." To South Koreans, they are everyday language. To defectors from North Korea,... More »

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