Sgt Bowe Bergdahl spoke English for 23 years until he was captured by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan five years ago. But since his release, he has trouble speaking it, says his father. How can you lose your native language, asks Taylor Kate Brown.
Some people have gone decades without speaking or hearing their first language but they retain the ability to speak it easily, says Dr Monika Schmid, a linguistics professor at the University of Essex in the UK. But others begin losing fluency within a few years of not speaking it.
It’s rare to totally lose command of a first language, she says. Instead people have “language attrition” – trouble recalling certain words or they use odd grammar structures. Age is a factor. Once past puberty, Dr Schmid says, your first language is stable and the effects of attrition can reverse themselves if you are re-immersed. But children as old as 10 don’t necessarily retain the language they were born into. In a study of French adoptees who left South Korea in childhood, when asked in their early 30s to identify Korean, they did no better than native French speakers with no exposure to the language.
The difficulties in recalling your first language are greater the more immersed you are in a second language, says Dr Aneta Pavlenko at Temple University in Philadelphia, because cognitive resources are limited. Despite teaching Russian at university in the US, she herself returned to her Russian-speaking community in Kiev to realise she had forgotten how to start a conversation at the post office.
It’s well known that brain injuries can have an impact on language loss, but emotional trauma can also affect it. Among German Jews who fled the country during the Holocaust, Dr Schmid says the loss of language was far more dramatic the greater their trauma.
All text and Image via BBC News
People who are able to speak two languages usually can do so seamlessly, a trait that likely develops a higher level of mental flexibility, researchers say.
“In the past, bilinguals were looked down upon,” says Judith F. Kroll, distinguished professor of psychology, linguistics and women’s studies at Penn State.
“Not only is bilingualism not bad for you, it may be really good. When you’re switching languages all the time it strengthens your mental muscle and your executive function becomes enhanced.”
Fluent bilinguals seem to have both languages active at all times, whether both languages are consciously being used or not—and both languages are active whether either was used only seconds or several days earlier.
Bilinguals rarely say a word in the unintended language, which suggests that they have the ability to control the parallel activity of both languages and ultimately select the intended language without needing to consciously think about it.
For a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers conducted two separate but related experiments. In the first, 27 Spanish-English bilinguals read 512 sentences, written in either Spanish or English—alternating language every two sentences.
Excerpt from an article by Victoria Indivero-Penn State at Futurity. Continue THERE
For Peter Sokolowski, a high-profile event like the 9/11 attacks or the 2012 vice-presidential debate is not just news. It’s a “vocabulary event” that sends readers racing to their dictionaries.
Sokolowski is editor at large for Merriam-Webster, whose red-and-blue-jacketed Collegiate Dictionary still sits on the desk of many a student and editor. In a print-only era, it would have been next to impossible for him to track vocabulary events. Samuel Johnson, the grand old man of the modern dictionary, “could have spent a week or a month writing a given word’s definition and could never have known if anyone read it,” he says.
Today, Sokolowski can and does monitor what visitors to the Merriam-Webster Web site look up—as they’re doing it.
With the spread of digital technologies, dictionaries have become a two-way mirror, a record not just of words’ meanings but of what we want to know. Digital dictionaries read us.
Excerpt from an article written by Jennifer Howard at TCHE. Continue HERE
Moderator: Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
* Emilio Bizzi, MIT Institute Professor; Founding Member, McGovern Institute for Brain Research
* Sydney Brenner, Senior Distinguished Fellow, Crick-Jacobs Center, Salk Institute? for Biological Studies
* Noam Chomsky, MIT Institute Professor, Emeritus; Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
* Marvin Minsky, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Emeritus, MIT?
* Barbara H. Partee PhD ’65, Distinguished University Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Philosophy, University of Massachusetts
* Patrick H. Winston ’65 SM ’67 PhD ’70, Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, MIT?; Principal Investigator, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Chairman and Co-founder, Ascent Technology
See this panel HERE. Photo above via
There are so many ways for speakers of English to see the world. We can glimpse, glance, visualize, view, look, spy, or ogle. Stare, gawk, or gape. Peek, watch, or scrutinize. Each word suggests some subtly different quality: looking implies volition; spying suggests furtiveness; gawking carries an element of social judgment and a sense of surprise. When we try to describe an act of vision, we consider a constellation of available meanings. But if thoughts and words exist on different planes, then expression must always be an act of compromise.
Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like “knight.” No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.
“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,” John Quijada, a fifty-four-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled “Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.” Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words. It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.
Excerpt from an article written by Joshua Foer at The New Yorker. Continue HERE
“People who are interested in and paying close attention to each other begin to speak more alike.” James Pennebaker, a psychologist interested in the secret life of pronouns, has counted words to better understand lots of things. He’s looked at lying, at leadership, at who will recover from trauma.
But some of his most interesting work has to do with power dynamics. He says that by analyzing language you can easily tell who among two people has power in a relationship, and their relative social status.
“It’s amazingly simple,” Pennebaker says, “Listen to the relative use of the word “I.”
What you find is completely different from what most people would think. The person with the higher status uses the word “I” less.
To demonstrate this Pennebaker pointed to some of his own email, a batch written long before he began studying status. First he shares an email written by one of his undergraduate students, a woman named Pam:
Dear Dr. Pennebaker:
I was part of your Introductory Psychology class last semester. I have enjoyed your lectures and I‘ve learned so much. I received an email from you about doing some research with you. Would there be a time for me to come by and talk about this?
Now consider Pennebaker’s response:
Dear Pam –
This would be great. This week isn’t good because of a trip. How about next Tuesday between 9 and 10:30. It will be good to see you.
Excerpt of an article written by Alix Spiegel at NPR. Read it HERE
Images via Yale Scientific
A new study in the Journal of Adolescence looks at motivations in online accounts of self-harm and gives an insight into the various ways young people describe their actions.
The research aims to examine ‘magical thinking’ in explanations of self-harm but this doesn’t necessarily mean magical thinking in the sense associated with psychosis (i.e. unknown forces and jumping to conclusion) but in terms of how metaphors and symbolism and woven into the young people’s explanations.
Part of the article gives examples of various forms of symbolic ‘magical thinking’. It’s a bit wordy but it illustrates some of the psychological complexity of self-harm.
All text via Mind Hacks. Continue HERE
Noam Chomsky speaks about the history of linguistics in the 20th century and the role played by the MIT Linguistics department.
From “50 Years of Linguistics at MIT: a Scientific Reunion” (December 9-11, 2011)