The Origins and Dialects of Old English

First lines of Beowulf from the damaged Nowell Codex Old English arose from the set of varieties of West Germanic which the early settlers spoke. By Dr. Raymond Hickey Professor for General Linguistics and Varieties of English Universität Duisburg-Essen Origins The Germanic settlers, who according to the Venerable Bede arrived in England in 449, brought[…]

Multilingualism Along the Nile in Ancient Egypt

This bilingual papyrus containing magical spells and recipes dates from the early third century A.D. and is written in both Greek and Demotic. In some passages, the Greek text is also transliterated into Demotic, and vice versa. London Magical Papyrus, A.D. 200–225, Romano-Egyptian. Papyrus and ink, 9 7/16 × 33 5/8 in. The British Museum,[…]

Recreating Language’s Big Bang through a Game of Vocal Charades

To communicate is human – but how did language originally get started? Scott Johnson, CC BY-NC-ND What can a bunch of people grunting in a lab teach us about our capacity to create language systems? A lot about the gesture- or vocalization-based origins of language. By Dr. Marcus Perlman / 08.04.2015 Postdoctoral Research Associate in Psychology University of Madison-Wisconsin Roughly 7,000 languages are used around the world, and many[…]

The Elusive Foolproof Theory of the Origin of Language

It is nearly impossible for us to know or be sure about the earliest human language ever used. www.shutterstock.com There have been many theories that try to explain where language came from. None prevailed or even came close to the position of the Darwinism theory in biology or the Big Bang theory in physics. By Dr. Ignatius Tri Endarto / 05.02.2018 Lecturer in Linguistics and Language Education Universitas[…]

Willies, Ghillies, and Horny Highlanders: Scottish Gaelic Writing has a Filthy Past

Cheeky. Tim Large Most people’s shortbread-tin ideas about the Highlands and Islands are missing a key traditional ingredient. By Dr. Peter Mackay / 10.24.2017 Lecturer in Literature University of St. Andrews Think of Scotland’s Highlands and islands and you probably think hills, glens, tartan, shortbread, bagpipes, caber-tossing, whisky, haggis, stags in the mist, grandiose aristocrats, bearded ghillies and high-kicking kilted dancers. Or[…]

The Americanization of the English Language: A Frightfully Subtle Affair

The terribly good Brief Encounter (1945). The BFI/Eagle Lion Distributors Is British English being swallowed up by American English – or are both versions simply following the same path to a more informal language? By Dr. Paul Baker / 11.08.2017 Professor of Linguistics and English Language Lancaster University Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language – after all, they originated it. But a Google[…]

Combining Linguistics, Archaeology, and Ancient DNA Genetics to Understand Deep Human History

TonelloPhotography/Shutterstock.com Each discipline tells us only part of the story. And so the truest picture of prehistory comes from triangulating these independent lines of evidence.    By Dr. Michael Dunn (left) and Dr. Annemarie Verkerk (right) / 03.29.2018 Dunn: Professor in Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University Verkerk: Postdoctoral Research Associate in Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for the[…]

Thinking the Unthinkable: Tracing Language Back 15,000 Years

Linguistic controversy: could ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia? Sharon Mollerus Looking at language in prehistory. By Dr. Michael Dunn / 05.22.2013 Professor in Linguistics and Philology Uppsala University Just about everyone has a personal stake in language, and many people — expert and amateur — feel entitled to an opinion. But linguists care more[…]

Studying Chimpanzee Calls for Clues about the Origins of Human Language

Nisarg Desai observes wild chimps known as Sandi, Ferdinand and Siri in Tanzania. Michael Wilson, CC BY-ND Do chimpanzee talk to each other? Scientists follow and record chimpanzees in the wild to find out – and to fill in details about how human language might have evolved. By Dr. Michael Wilson / 05.08.2018 Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior University of Minnesota Freud, Wilkie and the[…]

Languages Being Revived in Native Language Schools

In the 19th century, federal policy shifted from a policy of extermination and displacement to assimilation. The passage of the Civilization Fund Act in 1819 allocated federal funds directly to education for the purpose of assimilation, and that led to the formation of many government-run boarding schools. / Photo by Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images. More than a century ago, the last[…]

Bringing a Dying Language Back to Life

Harvard instructor Sunn m’Cheaux worked with 30 Vassal Lane Upper School seventh-graders, teaching them the origin of the Gullah language as part of Harvard’s Project Teach program. / Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer Harvard instructor introduces seventh-graders to the world of Gullah By Brigid O’Rourke / 04.16.2018 It’s unlikely that many of his grade-school classmates would have[…]

The Recovery of Cuneiform, the World’s Oldest Known Writing

A relief at the ancient Persian city of Persepolis (now in modern Iran), including inscriptions in cuneiform, the world’s oldest form of writing. Diego Delso/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA Cuneiform was used for over 3,000 years in the Ancient Near East, but was only decoded in the 19th century. The writing form is still revealing amazing stories, from literature to mathematics. By Dr. Louise Pryke / 10.05.2017 Lecturer,[…]

How People Talk Now Holds Clues about Human Migration Centuries Ago

What can a modern-day Creole language tell us about its first speakers in the 1600s? M M,    By Dr. Nicole Creanza (left) and Dr. André Ché Sherriah (right) / 03.02.2018 Creanza: Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University Sherriah: Postdoctoral Associate in Linguistics, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus Often, you can tell where someone[…]

Decoding Languages in the Lab

New linguistics facility applies scientific tenets to understanding how we communicate. By Jill Radsken / 02.21.2018 Dorothy Ahn stood behind a video camera, recording a fellow researcher reading simple sentences — “One girl is my friend. That girl plays soccer”— while pointing for emphasis. The filming was part of a research experiment comparing speech gestures[…]

The Peoples, Languages, and History of the Pyrenees Region

Sainte-Cecile Cathedral overlooking the Tarn River, Albi, France. Midi- Pyrénées / Encyclopedia Britannica  By Dr. Friedrich Edelmayer / 05.31.2012 Professor of Austrian and Medieval History Universität Wien Abstract The Pyrenees region encompasses areas from the Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of France and the Principality of Andorra. It is also linguistically heterogeneous. In addition to[…]

Language and Its Development

Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 02.15.2018 Historian Brewminate Editor-in-Chief 1 – Introduction to Language 1.2 – Introduction 1.1.2 – Overview Language is the ability to produce and comprehend both spoken and written (and in the case of sign language, signed) words. Understanding how language works means reaching across many branches of psychology—everything from basic[…]

The Term “Reich” in the Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern Worlds

Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Joachim Whaley / 05.11.2015 Professor of German History and Thought University of Cambridge Abstract The term “Reich” is found in a variety of European languages and has several applications in German. “Das Reich” is different, however, and it derives its suggestive force from a combination of secular and religious sources. This[…]

The Polyglot of Bologna

Mezzofanti as pictured in the frontispiece to The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti; with an introductory memoir of eminent linguists, ancient and modern (1858) by Charles William Russell Michael Erard takes a look at The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, a book exploring the extraordinary talent of the 19th century Italian cardinal who was reported to be able to speak[…]

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Johann Schleyer on a harp given to him as a 50th birthday present by his colleagues at Sionsharfe, a magazine devoted mainly to Catholic poetry, which Schleyer edited and in which he first published on Volapük in 1879 / Bayerische StaatsBibliothek Arika Okrent explores the rise and fall of Volapük – a universal language created in[…]

Porridge is Funnier than Oatmeal, and Booty is Funnier Still

Ha! Photo by Getty Images    By Dr. Thomas Hills (left) and Tomas Engelthaler (right) / 11.20.2017 Hills:  Professor of Psychology Engelthaler:  PhD Candidate in Psychology University of Warwick ‘Which word is funnier: porridge or oatmeal?’ This is the question one of us recently posed to the other. Clearly, the notion was insane. Surely finding something funny requires context[…]

Primate Vocalizations are Much More than Gibberish

Chimpanzees use alarm calls to inform each other of danger. / Ronald Woan, Flickr Nonhuman primates clearly do more than just screech meaningless sounds at each other, but what are the limits of their communication? By Jay Schwartz / 08.25.2017 PhD Candidate in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Emory University A chimpanzee is strolling along a[…]

The Language of the Undead: Zombie Narrative and Linguistics, Who Knew?

Jamie Thomas, AB ’06, studies zombies, language, race and othering at Swarthmore College. Photo by Jennifer Weisbord By Alana Hauser / 10.16.2017 In 2003, bestselling author Max Brooks published the Gray’s Anatomy of survival guides. The Zombie Survival Guide took readers on a journey through the anatomy of the living dead: their physical attributes, behavioral patterns and historical origins.[…]

The Unexpected Benefits of Getting Lost in Translation

‘You can never, in American public life, underestimate the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility.’ Kissinger meets Anwar Sadat in 1976. / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Edward Gibson / 09.25.2017 Professor of Cognitive Science Massachusetts Institute of Technology About 20 per cent of the United States population (60 million out of 300 million people) are[…]

Languages don’t All have the Same Number of Terms for Colors – Scientists have a New Theory Why

Everyone sees them all, but we don’t all give them the same distinct names. lazyllama/Shutterstock.com   By Dr. Ted Gibson and Dr. Bevil R. Conway / 09.18.2017 Gibson: Professor of Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Conway: Investigator at the National Eye Institute’s Sensation, Cognition, Action Unit, National Institutes of Health People with standard vision can see[…]