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[…]

The Reawakening of Hebrew as a Mother Tongue

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in 1905 / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Lewis Glinert / 09.06.2017 Professor of Hebrew Studies and Linguistics Dartmouth College In a Jewish section of Jerusalem, in 1885, a young couple, Eliezer and Devora Ben-Yehuda, were fearful for their child: they were rearing him in Hebrew, an unheard-of idea. They had taken in a[…]

Combatting Stereotypes about Appalachian Dialects

The small city of Hazard, Kentucky, rests in the heart of Appalachia. AP Photo/David Stephenson By Dr. Kirk Hazen / 07.13.2017 Professor of Linguistics West Virginia University During the 2016 presidential election, broad support for Donald Trump came from most communities in Appalachia, where he received 63 percent of the vote. A great deal of national attention was[…]

The Bilingual Brain: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Image by futureatlas/Flickr By Dr. Angela Grant / 03.14.2017 Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience Research Over the past few years, you might have noticed a surfeit of articles covering current research on bilingualism. Some of them suggest that it sharpens the mind, while others are clearly intended to provoke more doubt than confidence, such as Maria Konnikova’s[…]

What is Language?

Image from ACME Squares, Creative Commons By Dr. Carlos Gray Santana Assistant Professor of Philosophy University of Utah Abstract Linguists (and philosophers of language) have long disagreed about the ontology of language, and thus about the proper subject matter of their disciplines. A close examination of the leading arguments in the debates shows that while[…]

‘Anumeric’ People: What Happens when a Language has No Words for Numbers?

A Pirahã family. / Photo by Caleb Everett By Dr. Caleb Everett / 04.25.2017 Andrew Carnegie Fellow Professor of Anthropology University of Miami Numbers do not exist in all cultures. There are numberless hunter-gatherers embedded deep in Amazonia, living along branches of the world’s largest river tree. Instead of using words for precise quantities, these[…]

Written Greek but Drawn Egyptian: Script Changes in a Bilingual Dream Papyrus

Figure 1: P.Cairo 30961 recto. Photograph Ahmed Amin, Egyptian Museum, Cairo. By Dr. Stephen Kidd / 12.18.2013 Robert Gale Noyes Assistant Professor of Classics Brown University Introduction In a 3rd-century bce Greco-Egyptian letter inscribed on papyrus, a man writes to his friend about a recent dream. He is writing in Greek, but in order to[…]

Revisiting the Question of Etymology and Essence

By Dr. Gregory Nagy / 03.13.2015 Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University Classical Inquiries Center for Hellenic Studies Helen and Menelaus on a vase / Louvre Museum, Paris When I say etymology here, I mean the procedure of reconstructing a form[…]

Prehistory through Language and Archaeology

Language families of the world (click image to enlarge) By Dr. Paul Heggarty / 03.24.2015 Department of Linguistics and Cultural Evolution Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Abstract This is not about the histories of languages themselves. Rather, it explores what those histories can tell us of the populations and societies that[…]

What’s in a Name? Linguistic Considerations in the Study of ‘Karian’ Religion

Karian rock tombs, near Marmaris, Turkey / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Naomi Carless Unwin / 11.01.2016 Senior Fellow, Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations Koç University, Istanbul CHS Research Bulletin 4:2 (2016) Introduction The history of Karia is entangled with that of the Greek-speaking world; the cultural and religious character of the region was shaped by[…]

When the Telling is the Text: Literacy, Performance, and the Traveling Performer in Pre-Colonial Maharashtra

Veda Performance at TACO Diwali, 2016 / YouTube Screen Capture By Dr. Christian Lee Novetzke / 10.01.2015 Professor of South Asia, Comparative Religion, and International Studies University of Washington In modern scholarship on non-modern, and especially non-Western, subjects, we tend to treat the dialectic between orality and literacy as if all theoretical and historical questions[…]

Making it Vernacular in Agra: The Practice of Translation by Seventeenth-Century Jains

Jain monks in Gujarat, India By Dr. John E. Cort / 10.01.2015 Professor of Asian and Comparative Religions Denison University From Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature, and Performance in North India[1] Language and Translation The 17th century Digambar Jain temple and the 18th century Gauri Shankar Hindu temple in Delhi / 123RF.com In one sense,[…]

The Extraordinary Story of an Italian Peasant Who Taught Himself 100 Rare and Extinct Languages

02.27.2017 86-year-old Riccardo Bertani is an exceptional man. Born to a family of farmers in Caprara, a small settlement in Reggio Emilia, Italy, he abandoned his study right after elementary school and dedicated his life to translating and documenting over 100 extinct and rare languages from all around the world. “It was castrating, I quit,”[…]

Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish, a European Heritage

Judeo-Spanish: A Dying Language By Dr. Haïm Vidal Séphiha / 1997 Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Université Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages Institut Sépharade Européen Origins On 31 March 1492, the Spain of three religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) followed the example of other European nations. After the fall of Grenada, which[…]

The Divine Riches of the Latin Language

Roman city gate of the CCAA, imaginatively inscribed with “CCAA”. / Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne. – Photo: PK, 2014 By Dr. Peter Kruschwitz / 05.08.2014 From The Petrified Muse Professor of Classics Fellow of the Pontifical Academy for Latin (Pontificia Academia Latinitatis) University of Reading My son’s interest in the Latin language, fuelled by his engaging[…]

Languages Still a Major Barrier to Global Science, New Research Finds

Over a third of new conservation science documents published annually are in non-English languages, despite assumption of English as scientific ‘lingua franca’. Researchers find examples of important science missed at international level, and practitioners struggling to access new knowledge, as a result of language barriers. 12.29.2016 English is now considered the common language, or ‘lingua[…]

The Past in the Present

Ancient Sanskrit carving on a golden background By Dr. Thomas R. Trautmann Professor Emeritus of Anthropology University of Michigan Volume 1, 2011 Abstract The theory-deadness of antiquity under the ideology of modernism, the theory-deadness of Asia under Eurocentrism, and the theory-deadness of the precolonial under post-colonial theory converge to hide the aliveness of ancient Indian[…]

The Zamenhof Legacy

L.L. Zamenhof By Dr. Romeo Vitelli / 09.30.2016 Psychologist Providentia It was a noble idea.  Who knew that such tragedy would spring from it? When L._L._Zamenhof developed the artificial language known as Esperanto, he intended it as a method of international communication to promote peaceful coexistence among nations (the name of the language stems from[…]

Red, Yellow, Pink, and Green: How the World’s Languages Name the Rainbow

How many colors in your language’s rainbow? / Shutterstock By Dr. Claire Bowern / 11.16.2016 Associate Professor of Linguistics Yale University It is striking that English color words come from many sources. Some of the more exotic ones, like “vermilion” and “chartreuse,” were borrowed from French, and are named after the color of a particular[…]