I'm Soup, the (relatively) new product manager at Language Tools (soon to be OPLingo). Among other things, I'll be publishing a blog post once a week with the most interesting stuff about language and languages that I have the chance of coming across. I'd be happy if I could contribute to discussion here. Any feedback is welcome. You'll see me around quite a lot on the forum, as Leo and the team start announcing exciting news in the coming weeks.
Now that presentations are done, let's get to it.
- Languages with more aspirated consonants (like t in taste) generate more droplets, so speakers of such languages are more likely to transmit air-borne infectious diseases. All things being equal, speakers of English are more infectious than speakers of Japanese. Fascinating, how such a detail, when brought to a large enough scale, can have massive effects. Not only is this discovery indirectly bringing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis onto the scale of human societies, but the consequences of this are the stuff of scifi. For the futurists out there: if the new world we're entering is one where pandemics are a yearly occurrence, would countries become more likely to attain economic prominence thanks to the physical properties of their language? Could the world's lingua franca be selected based on such characteristics, instead of economy and geopolitics? Sounds like something straight out of Asimov. Hopefully, the small magnitude of this effect won't create new forms of prejudice.
- The universal prevalence of suffixes (-tion, -ment) rather than prefixes (sub-, over-) in human languages, a long-standing consensus in linguistics, rich with insights about human cognition, is now the latest victim of the replication crisis. Turns out that previous studies were too heavily centered on Western languages... And turns out there is a wealth of human languages that prefer prefixes to suffixes to modify the meaning of words... The money quote: "A preference for prefixes over suffixes by some language speakers has larger implications than diverse human cognition. It might be a sign that language research has not been exhaustive in the past".
- Some words are easier to remember than others. Doesn't matter how frequently these words appear in a language, or what they refer to, or in which context the recall experiment is conducted. The distinctive quality of the more memorable words is their semantic similarity to other words in the language. Basically, if one compares a language to Wikipedia, then Philosophy (the most linked to definition on the website) would be an easy to remember word, while Toast sandwich (a somewhat less popular concept) will forever stay on the tip of your tongue. For those of us who swear by flashcards, could this study imply that it would be more effective to learn the 1000 most semantically linked words, instead of the 1000 most common ones?
- The mistakes that we make while learning a language can be hilarious. Equally hilarious are the ones that stem from technically correct, but ambiguous or uncommon phrasing. A famous example: "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana".
- The population of the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia is protesting the Chinese Communist Party's directive that would make several school classes be taught entirely in Chinese, rather than in Mongolian. The Mongolian-speaking population's fears that the decision represents a risk to their culture led to the largest demonstrations in the region in the last 30 years.
- Sep 23 was the International Day of Sign Languages and this year’s theme was “Sign Languages are for Everyone!”. Watch politicians across the world take part in the celebrations here! And Sep 30 was the International Day of Translators. It was instituted in 2017 by the UN, in order to recognize "the role of language professionals in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development".
First weekly post ever! Hope it leads to some great conversations, and be sure to share any feedback with me.