For the last four decades, Koko, the world’s most famous gorilla, has lived in a trailer in Silicon Valley, the subject of the longest-running project on ape sign language. With a reported vocabulary of hundreds of signs, Koko has appeared to express feelings almost anyone can relate to — a love of kittens, a desire to be a mother.
A new PBS documentary argues that Koko’s remarkable life...
In the brain, language pops up everywhere.
All across the wrinkly expanse of the brain’s outer layer, a constellation of different regions handle the meaning of language, scientists report online April 27 in Nature.
One region that responds to “family,” “home” and “mother,” for example, rests in a tiny chunk of tissue on the right side of the brain, above and behind the ear. That...
The grunts, moans and wobbles of gelada monkeys, a chatty species residing in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, observe a universal mathematical principle seen until now only in human language.
The new research, published online April 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the evolution of primate communication and complex human language, the researchers...
“Beauty and the Beast” is practically “a tale as old as time.” So are a few other folktales, new research shows.
Statistical ties between a set of folktales and languages from parts of Europe and Asia have helped researchers date the origins of some stories to thousands of years ago. The roots of the oldest one — a folktale called “The Smith and the Devil” — stretch back to the Bronze...
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Written in StoneChristopher StevensPegasus Books, $27.9510/17/2015 - 08:00 Language, Science & Society
All these words we speak arose somewhere. But what do acrid, acme and acrophobia have in common? They all derive from the ancient Indo-European word ak, which meant sharp, quick or high and pointy.
Imagine such a language, sprinkled with onomatopoeia. Ak sounds sharp. Mei, the ancient word for smile, goes nicely with the...
Australian Aborigines relate some of the oldest memories in the world, a controversial new study suggests.
Aboriginal groups from every part of Australia’s coastline tell stories of long-ago deluges that can be traced to real events caused by rising sea levels at various times between around 7,250 and 13,070 years ago, two Australian researchers report September 7 in the Australian...
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Amid the mountains of northeast Turkey, people whistle messages that ring across valleys like ornate bird songs. Unlike with hearing spoken languages, listeners who understand this rare form of communication rely on both sides of their brains, a new study suggests.
For most people, the left side of the brain does the heavy lifting in understanding speech. But when...
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Scientific BabelMichael D. GordinUniv. of Chicago, $30
When the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev discovered the “periodic law” that he illustrated with a table of the elements, he published his finding first in Russian and then in a German translation. Shortly thereafter, though, the German chemist Lothar Meyer claimed to be first to perceive the periodicity in the properties of...
Hillary Clinton’s announcement last weekend that she is officially running for president set pundits spinning on both sides of the aisle. Released via a video on Clinton’s campaign website, the announcement featured only 92 words from the candidate, which were variously quoted by media outlets of all stripes. Consider this excerpt from The National Review, an outlet that self-identifies as...
Human vocal chords can produce an astonishing array of sounds: shrill and fearful, low and sultry, light and breathy, loud and firm. The slabs of muscle in our throat make the commanding sound of a powerful bass and a baby’s delightful, gurgling laugh. There are voices that must be taken seriously, voices that play and voices that seduce.
And then there’s vocal fry.