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  • Science Ticker

    Zebra finches can detect variations in human speech

    When humans vary the pitch or rhythm of their speech, the changes usually add information to what is being said. Humans, however, aren’t the only ones that can hear these variations in sound — zebra finches can perceive them as well, a new study shows. The results, which appear May 28 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that being able to detect subtle variations in speech is...

    05/28/2014 - 08:39 Animals, Language, Evolution
  • News

    Babies learn some early words by touch

    Awash in streams of adult chatter, babies fish out and recognize some of their first words thanks to well-timed touches from their caregivers, a new study suggests.

    An experimenter’s synchronized taps on an elbow or knee enabled 4-month-olds to notice nonsense words embedded in spoken strings of syllables, say psycholinguist Amanda Seidl of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and...

    04/28/2014 - 15:15 Psychology, Language
  • News

    Word-streaming tech may spell trouble for readers

    In the brave new digital world of reading, words flash by one at a time on the tiny screens of smart watches and phones. This portable, pageless story doesn’t end well for people keen on understanding what they’ve read, say psychologist Elizabeth Schotter of the University of California, San Diego and her colleagues.

    Rereading words salvages understanding of initially confusing passages...

    04/24/2014 - 17:13 Psychology, Language
  • Feature

    Year in Review: Language learning starts before birth


    Parents are usually careful to watch their language around young children. Maybe parents-to-be ought to watch what they say, too. Not only do babies slurp up language skills in the first few years of life, but new research also suggests that this precocious language learning starts in the...

    12/23/2013 - 10:00 Human Development, Language
  • News

    Little Red Riding Hood gets an evolutionary makeover

    Back off, Big Bad Wolf. The Ravenous Data Cruncher has cornered “Little Red Riding Hood,” brandishing a statistical exposé of the fictional girl’s hazy past.

    In computer analyses that track the evolution of 58 documented folktales, anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani of Durham University in England finds that related versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” spread from a European origin over at...

    11/22/2013 - 13:47 Anthropology, Language
  • News

    Babies perk up to sounds of ancient hazards

    Babies have an ear for primeval dangers, a new study suggests. By age 9 months, infants pay special attention to sounds that have signaled threats to children’s safety and survival throughout human evolution, say psychologist Nicole Erlich of the University of Queensland, Australia, and her colleagues. Those sounds include a snake hissing, adults’ angry voices, a crackling fire, thunder claps...

    09/09/2013 - 11:27 Language
  • Feature

    The Tune Wreckers

    Strange things happen when bad singers perform in public.

    Comedienne Roseanne Barr was widely vilified in 1990 after she screeched the national anthem at a major league baseball game. College student William Hung earned worldwide fame and a recording contract in 2004 with a tuneless version of Ricky Martin’s hit song “She Bangs” on American...

    09/05/2013 - 13:55 Language
  • News

    Babies learn words before birth

    Parents-to-be better watch their language. Babies can hear specific words in the womb and remember them in the days after birth, a new study reports. The results add to the understanding of how the early acoustical environment shapes the developing brain.

    Earlier studies have found that fetuses can hear and learn certain sounds. Nursery rhymes, vowel sounds and mothers’ voices can all...

    08/26/2013 - 15:54 Language
  • Letters to the Editor

    Letters to the editor

    Seeing ice In the photo series shown in “Taking Antarctica’s temperature”(SN: 7/27/13, p. 18), the ice appears to be increasing from January to April as one would expect in the Southern Hemisphere. How does this demonstrate the rapid collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf?William Meadows, Dripping Springs, Texas

    The satellite images show a large area of the Antarctic Peninsula; the Larsen B...

    08/23/2013 - 14:35 Earth, Language
  • News

    Language learning may begin before birth

    Babies may start to learn their mother tongues even before seeing their mothers’ faces. Newborns react differently to native and foreign vowel sounds, suggesting that language learning begins in the womb, researchers say.

    Infants tested seven to 75 hours after birth treated spoken variants of a vowel sound in their home language as similar, evidence that newborns regard these...

    01/07/2013 - 20:03 Language, Neuroscience