Babies Language

Do sounds have inherent meanings or connotations that influence the development of language? The results of a new study covered on Science Daily suggest that they might – that is, that there are certain sounds that we instinctively associate with specific physical characteristics, like “larger” or “smaller.”

In the article, Marcela Peña of the  International School for Advanced Studies explained that the study sought to answer some big questions:

“What is the nature of language? Is everything symbolic or arbitrary? Or are there particular physical aspects of learning that we exploit” to begin to make sense of a large, complex, and — for a tiny infant — brand-new world.”

To find out, the researchers tested 28 four-month-old infants to see if they associated certain sounds with concepts like “larger” or “smaller.” The babies, all from Spanish-speaking homes, were exposed to a variety of meaningless combinations of consonants and vowel sounds, along with a variety of shapes of differing sizes.  Read more

the midnight moo

The MK Midnight Moo Charity

K International takes its corporate social responsibility seriously. We believe all business has an inherent responsibility to its staff, its partners, the environment and the community that goes way beyond the creation and sustainability of profits.

We support as many charities as we can. We run for cancer research, we make cakes and sell them for the British Red Cross, we provide free design for a local youth charity and we support local charities.

Last week, Phillipa Trimnell, one of the K International completed the MK Midnight Moo for Willen Hospice in Milton Keynes.

Here is her story:

“It is midnight on a Saturday and most people are either out having a good time or tucked up nice and warm in bed.

Instead of being one of those sensible people, I decided, along with over 1700 other women, to walk 10 miles around Milton Keynes to raise money for Willen Hospice. The name of the walk was the ‘Midnight Moo’, so of course grass green t-shirts, with the face of a cow on the front and back, were compulsory – a great fashion statement for all involved.

We all started off in high spirits from Midsummer Place with lots of people cheering us on and a great party atmosphere. The first 6 miles were relatively easy, and chewing the cud with some nice carrot cake to fortify us at the re-registering point, we trotted on. Every couple of minutes or so, the marshals and other members of the public (and a team of firemen, which definitely cheered up a lot of the ‘herd’!) were out supporting us and cheering us on, which kept us going.

As this was a walk in Milton Keynes, walking past the concrete cows was a must, and quite a ‘moo-vellous’ sight, all lit up in the dark. The last two miles were the worst; our hooves were rather sore, especially as it was mostly up-hill. However, as soon as we saw the blue lights of Midsummer Place we were able to give it one last push and made it in 3 hours and 32 minutes – a very respectful time – and I also managed to beat my target of raising £150 for such a great charity and aim now aiming for £200.

A big thank you to everyone who supported me.”

Translation On The Silver Screen

These days, movies and even TV shows are expected to play for a global audience. However, translating them is often as difficult as translating literature. So much of what makes a successful film or TV show “work” is rooted in local culture. For example, consider Disney’s recent worldwide release of “Cars 2.”   Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney Character Voices, told Forbes that “Mater”, one of the most popular characters, was also the most challenging to translate:

“Mater’s kind of a redneck, but that means nothing to anyone overseas because they don’t have that particular vocal culture. So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive.”

Another challenge is that even in countries that speak the same language, words can vary in meaning and connotation. So, trying to translate from one widely spoken language to another, like from English to Spanish,  requires in-depth knowledge of how the language is used in all of the countries that speak it. It’s much more difficult that it appears to outsiders. For example, Elena Barciae, who translates English films into Spanish versions aimed at Central and South America, told Forbes:

“The more slang, the harder it gets because slang tends to be very localized. Simple words are affected, too. `Bicho’ means bug everywhere except Puerto Rico, where it’s a slang word for a part of the male anatomy. That wouldn’t go over too well for the title of `A Bug’s Life,’ would it?” Read more

New Guinea’s Languages Fall Silent

The tiny island of New Guinea is a hotbed of linguistic diversity. Though the island is only 462,840 square kilometres in size, approximately one sixth of the world’s languages are spoken here. More than 1,000 languages have been counted on: around 800 in Papua New Guinea and 200 on the side of the island controlled by Indonesia.

Still, language death is a problem even here. According to China Daily, many New Guinea languages are in danger of going extinct, especially those spoken by smaller tribes. For example, anthropologist Yoseph Wally told China Daily that based on his experience, on the Indonesian side of the island:

“It’s Indonesian more and more. Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said. Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago.”

In fact, the same factors that created New Guinea’s linguistic diversity are what make many of its languages so vulnerable. Steep mountains and almost impassable terrain kept tribes isolated from each other, encouraging each to develop their own unique language. However, that means that many of New Guinea’s languages were spoken only by small groups to begin with, and when it comes to keeping a language alive, there really is strength in numbers. Read more

Archive of English Accents

English is the third most commonly spoken native language in the world, and if you count people who speak it as a second language, it’s probably the language with the most speakers overall. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone speaks it in the same way – far from it! Even among native English speakers, there are too many local dialects and accents to name. When you throw in people who speak English as a second language, the variation becomes even more extreme.

To help document and catalogue the many different ways in which English is spoken, Steven Weinberger, a linguistics professor George Mason University in the United States, has created the Speech Accent Archive.

According to Voice of America, the archive consists of recordings of people reading the following paragraph, written to include most of the sounds in the English language: Read more

French: The Language of Love

French is often called “the language of love,” and for one American couple, that’s quite literally true.  According to NewsTimes.com, French was the spark that ignited an enduring romance between Pamela Saltzman, a teacher from New Jersey, and Badreddine Ahtchi, a graduate student from Algeria.

The two met after being dragged out to a bar by their respective groups of friends. Ms. Saltzman had studied French in college and loved the language, which was Mr. Ahtchi’s native tongue. When she heard him speaking French, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce herself and get some practice in. She told NewsTimes.com:

“We had a short conversation in French, and he asked me to dinner.”

One dinner turned into a series of dates. Ms. Saltzman became entranced by both Mr. Ahtchi and by his Algerian culture:

“He introduced me to a whole world I didn’t know. It’s a beautiful, rich, Old World culture.”

Read more

Irregular Verbs Don’t Like Us

Nobody likes irregular verbs. When it comes to learning a new language, these verbs dance to their own drummer, running roughshod over all of the conjugation rules you worked so hard to memorize. Even native speakers sometimes have trouble with them.

As Dr. Spock would say:

“Humans make illogical decisions. So, why do these “illogical” verb forms persist in the language? New research from Oxford University provides us with some clues toward the answer. In a write-up of the study published on the Science Daily website”

Professor Martin Maiden adds:

“Many people will remember groaning at school when faced with irregular French or Spanish verbs and wondering why they were the way they were. Our work helps to explain why they, and their equivalents in many related languages, not only exist but are even reinforced and replicated over time.”

Read more

Games Computers Play

Can we really teach computers to understand language, like a human can, or are they more like parrots, able to memorize certain words and phrases without actually grasping the meaning?

A new paper presented by MIT researcher Regina Barzilay and her graduate students indicates that computers will one day  have the capability to truly understand human language…perhaps sooner than we think.

To test how well their machine learning system understands written language, the researchers programmed it to teach itself to play the video game “Civilization” by “reading” the game’s user manual.

The results: after reading the manual, the computer won 79 percent of the games it played, as opposed to 46 percent without the manual.
S. R. K. Branavan, a graduate student who worked on the project, explained to MIT News that games like “Civilization” make an attractive way to test out computer intelligence because they are almost as complex as the real world:

“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity. Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.”

Read more

Keyboard in Maori Language

Maori is the original language of New Zealand, and one of the country’s three official languages. However, despite its official status and efforts at reviving it that date back to the 1980’s, the number of fluent speakers is estimated to be between 10,000 (Maori Language Commission, cited in Wikipedia) and 60,000 (Ethnologue). Approximately 100,000 people can understand Maori but have limited or no speaking capability.

Maori’s future does have a brighter outlook than that of many other indigenous languages, thanks to special immersion schools where children are educated in Maori. However, as technology becomes ever more central to daily life, people need to be able to use Maori on the computer if the language is to stay relevant. Fortunately, this week saw a couple of developments that should make that much easier.

First, a couple of businessmen from Rotorua just announced the release of the first Maori keyboard. The keyboard makes it a great deal simpler to type in Maori, as it includes keys for phonemes like “wh” and “ng” as well for the macrons used to differentiate long vowels from short vowels. Read more

Language of Texting

Are text messages and IMs killing the English language? Your former English professor may have thought so, citing the common use of abbreviations like “LOL” as a sign of the “dumbing down” of our culture and perhaps of the coming apocalypse. However, experts who study the history of language are more inclined to see SMS-speak (also known as “computer mediated communication” or CMC for short) as part of the natural evolution of the English language.

For example, Sali Tagliamonte, linguistics professor at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star that complaints about CMC are no more than the linguistic version of “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”  She says:

“People have always complained about the kids’ use of language. But there are never going to be any changes in language, made voluntarily, that impede understanding. The kids are further ahead in language exchange than older people.”

According to Tagliamonte, people start using new words primarily because they fill a need – in this case, the need to communicate using a keyboard as quickly and concisely as possible. Read more

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