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Showing posts from January, 2013

2012 Language News Update - Addendum 2

This is the final addition to the latest Language News Update. Read the first two parts and the first addendum as well if you like.

This latest piece of language news/research comes from researchers at the University of Washington. They have looked into how brain structure before babies' first birthday can predict problems in language development. The actual title of the study: "Early gray-matter and white-matter concentration in infancy predict later language skills: A whole brain voxel-based morphometry study." I do not know what the second part of the title means (particularly the words voxel and morphometry, but this sounds like, if not a breakthrough, a huge step in the right direction for understanding both the brain and language and children and language.

My Google Demographics

Google knows what I do--online anyway. My blog belongs to Google, I search almost exclusively on Google, and I have a (Google) YouTube account. So I was amused the other day when for the first time I checked my Google ad preferences. They were more or less right in regard to what I search for online (literature, spirituality, news, language references) but were off in a couple of key categories:

Jeremy Patterson
Age: 35-44
Sex: Female
Languages: French, English, Italian

I am a 28-year-old male (if you are female and named Jeremy, that's fine with me, but I'm just sayin' . . .) and know no Italian. I don't think I've ever searched for any Italian words online either, but who knows.

I figured even Google needs a little help sometimes, so I straightened it out and hope for more interesting ads in the future.

Today in Language: Gérard de Nerval

The 19th-century French writer Gérard de Nerval died on January 26, 1855. More precisely, and to indicate what kind of life he lived before he died, Nerval committed suicide on January 26, 1855.

Nerval, most famous for the romantic novela Sylvie, was the quintessential 19th-century French melancholic writer: melancholic, poor, bohemian. He is commemorated in the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques in the heart of Paris, just a few blocks from where he lived and the street where he killed himself (the street is no longer there).


L'écrivain français Gérard de Nerval est mort le 26 janvier 1855. Plus précisément, il s'est suicidé le 26 janvier 1855, ce qui commence à indiquer quelle sorte de vie il avait menée.

Nerval représente le mal du siècle chez beaucoup d'écrivains français : mélancolique, pauvre, bohème. Il y a un médaillon de Nerval au Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques dans le 4ème arrondissement, à quelques pas de la maison de Nerval…

2012 Language News Update - Addendum 1

The twoparts of the 2012 Language News Update earlier this month missed out on two important studies done recently, both in the area of children and language acquisition.

The first study (I'll report on the second study in a few more days) concerns children of bilingual parents and language mixing. A researcher from Concordia University found that the vast majority of bilingual parents actually mix languages when talking with their children. As might be expected, this language mixing poses problems in the short term for vocabulary acquisition. But the general benefits of bilingual rearing are not undone, and the short-term effects may not be too serious.

In my own experience, I have gone to great pains not to mix languages at all when speaking to my children. I mix all the time with my wife, and she mixes somewhat with the children, but my reasoning has been the following: I speak French to them, which will be the language they hear the least (or at least the least frequently in nat…

An Important Humanitarian Question

I have an important humanitarian question: What happens to those people in action movies who are innocently driving along in their own cars in a metropolis when someone with otherwise good intentions (a police officer, Batman, a paramilitary dude) comes along and forces them out of the car at gunpoint so they can take the car and chase someone who is a general menace to humankind?

I do not mean what happens to the actual people in those movies. They are paid actors who, most likely, are much better off in life than I am in terms of financial remuneration for their work.

What I mean is, what happens to people who may actually have been in that situation (had their vehicle commandeered by the "good guys")? Assuming of course, that this actually happens, and I do assume that, since it's on TV, so it must be real life, right?
This is a humanitarian problem not on the same scale of famine, water deprivation, slavery, or actual car theft at gunpoint, but it's a humanitarian p…

2012 Language News Update - Part 2

This is the second part to this Language News Update. Part 1 focused on children, and so this Part 2 focuses on other research in the language sciences.

In general linguistics:
Recent research has focused on the advantages of ambiguity in language.Our assumptions and intuition about language aren't always wrong. For example, if you think that, say, Japanese, or Arabic speakers have a harder time mastering their language, you may be right.Our biases about language are not always right. Don't look down on someone who struggles with the pronunciation of your first language, as long as they're understandable. And don't kill yourself or be afraid to speak languages you're learning just because you don't sound like a native. Okay, all of that is my two cents, but there is new research backing up the notion that pronunciation (or "native accent" in popular terminology) is not so terribly important.When it comes to language learning, immersion really is the way…

Today in Language: Gaston Miron

The Quebec poet (the definite article could be italicized; he is both a poet from Quebec and the Quebec national poet if that can be a category) Gaston Miron was born on January 8, 1928.


Gaston Miron est né le 8 janvier 1928. Le poète national du Québec, le premier d'avoir reçu des obsèques nationales. Pour commémorer son anniversaire, voici les quatre parties d'un très beau documentaire sur sa vie et sa poétique, "Les outils du poète."
Première partie:

Deuxième partie:

Troisième partie:

Quatrième partie:

2012 Language News Update - Part 1

It has been 13 months since the last Language News Update here. By most standards then, this post is no longer newsworthy. To start the new year, we present some of the most important news and research from the sundry fields of language sciences.

Most of the language news from 2012 has to do with children. Today's post thus serves as part 1 of this Language News Update, focusing on the non-adults. Let's take it from the start, beginning with babies and even before birth:
Even babies still in the womb have started to recognize language. Yet another proof that abortion is taking a human life--murder, that is.Also in relation to how prenatal development, maternal depression is not helpful.If your baby has been born, you might have some fun trying to get him or her to mimic strange behavior by associating it with language.Babies apparently have more developed abilities than even adults to recognize relations between syllables (those whippersnappers!).Finally, and given their advance…

Of Kings, Presidents, and God

ALERT: This is a long post.

The year 2012 saw a lot of presidential elections, twelve by my count, in a variety of continents and geopolitical situations:

Russia Senegal
Paraguay Mexico
Venezuela U.S. China
South Korea
With these elections this year, and with the anniversary of Clovis' death in mind, I also started thinking about the difference between kings and presidents. When I was little, I once told my mother that I wanted to be the president of the United States. She asked why, and I responded confidently, "Because he tells everyone what to do." Far from the truth, I now realize, despite what some presidents themselves would like to think. But even kings have (or had) quite relative power.

Despite the obvious difference that kings are not chosen by democratic vote, and the fact that democracy did not even exist until recently, are different styles of human government and leadership so very different? You've got presidents and kings, dictators and pri…