Languages Sound Faster Than Others‎

Have you ever wondered why some languages sound faster than others? Researchers at the Universite de Lyon may have stumbled on the answer. They analysed several different languages to determine how much information each one was able to stuff into a single syllable. Then, they had speakers of several different languages read the same texts out loud. Each text had been translated so that the participants were all reading in their native languages. Eight languages were studied: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.

After listening to the recordings, the researchers used them to figure out how many syllables were spoken per second for each language. According to a write-up of the study published in Time, that led to an “a-ha” moment of sorts:

“A trade-off is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables. A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.”

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Brain of a Bilingual Baby‎

New parents are bombarded by well-meaning advice about how their parenting techniques could affect their child’s developing brain. A lot of this advice is exaggerated, like the potential benefits of showing your tots “Baby Einstein” videos. However, there’s a scientific consensus that infancy and early childhood is the best time to become bilingual, and that early exposure to two languages can have lasting, generally positive effects on cognition.

But why is it that? Scientists are just beginning to understand how bilingualism affects brain development in infants, and a new study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences adds another piece to the puzzle. Read more

Original‎ Chinese Translation of “Colombiana”‎

The distributors of the action movie Colombiana, which stars Zoe Saldana as a female assassin, ran into a bit of a hurdle when they tried to get the movie approved for distribution in Hong Kong.

The problem? An unintentional double entendre in the movie’s original Mandarin title, “Hei-lan-jiao,” which means “Black Orchid Beauty.” Unfortunately, in the local Taiwanese dialect Hoklo, “Hei-lan-jiao” sounds an awful lot like “penis.” Whoops!

Taiwanese government censors were not pleased with the translation. According to the Taipei Times, the Government Information Office called the title a “violation of public morals.” In a comment to Reuters, the department further elaborated that “While film promotion and marketing needs to be creative and eye-catching, one must also consider public perceptions, and in this recent case, the title went too far.” Read more

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