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Ancient DNA suggests that some Northern Europeans got their languages from Siberia -- ScienceDaily

"Studying ancient DNA makes it possible to pinpoint the moment in time when the genetic components that we see in modern populations reached the area since, instead of predicting past events based on modern genomes, we are analyzing the DNA of individuals who actually lived in a particular time in the past," Saag explains. Their data suggest that the Siberian ancestry reached the coasts of the Baltic Sea no later than the mid-first millennium BC -- around the time of the diversification of west Uralic/Finnic languages. It also indicates an influx of people from regions with strong Western hunter-gatherer characteristics in the Bronze Age, including many traits we now associate with modern Northern Europeans, like pale skins, blue eyes, and lactose tolerance. "The Bronze Age individuals from the Eastern Baltic show an increase in hunter-gatherer ancestry compared to Late Neolithic people and also in the frequency of light eyes, hair, and skin and lactose tolerance," Tambets says, noting that those characteristics continue amongst present-day Northern Europeans.

Gasp! First audio map of oohs, aahs and uh-ohs spans 24 emotions: Those spontaneous nonverbal exclamations we make speak volumes -- ScienceDaily

A statistical analysis of their responses found that the vocal bursts fit into at least two dozen distinct categories including amusement, anger, awe, confusion, contempt, contentment, desire, disappointment, disgust, distress, ecstasy, elation, embarrassment, fear, interest, pain, realization, relief, sadness, surprise (positive) surprise (negative), sympathy and triumph. For the second part of the study, researchers sought to present real-world contexts for the vocal bursts. They did this by sampling YouTube video clips that would evoke the 24 emotions established in the first part of the study, such as babies falling, puppies being hugged and spellbinding magic tricks. This time, 88 adults of all ages judged the vocal bursts extracted from YouTube videos. Again, the researchers were able to categorize their responses into 24 shades of emotion. The full set of data were then organized into a semantic space onto an interactive map. "These results show that emotional expressions color our social interactions with spirited declarations of our inner feelings that are difficult to fake, and that our friends, co-workers, and loved ones rely on to decipher our true commitments," Cowen said.

Psychologists solve mystery of songbird learning : "bird time" feedback

The researchers' clue to the zebra finch mystery came when they considered that birds see the world at several times the "critical flicker fusion rate" of humans. Simply put, birds can perceive events that happen much too fast for a human to see, and most previous research on social learning has not taken into account such rapid "bird time," in which tiny behaviors can have large social effects. Using slowed-down video, the Cornell researchers were able to identify tiny movements, imperceptible to the human eye, made by the female zebra finches to encourage the baby songbirds. These included wing gestures and "fluff-ups," an arousal behavior in which the bird fluffs up its feathers. "Over time, the female guides the baby's song toward her favorite version. There's nothing imitative about it," said Carouso-Peck.

Newborn babies have inbuilt ability to pick out words -- ScienceDaily

The researchers discovered two mechanisms in three-day-old infants, which give them the skills to pick out words in a stream of sounds. The first mechanism is known as prosody, the melody of language, allow us to recognise when a word starts and stops. The second is called the statistics of language, which describes how we compute the frequency of when sounds in a word come together. The discovery provides a key insight into a first step to learning language.

Listeners get an idea of the personality of the speaker through his voice -- ScienceDaily

Ratings of perceived personality were highly consistent among listeners regardless of the language in which voices were evaluated. That is, listeners agree in their judgments of whether a given voice sounds aggressive or confident. This suggests that there must be certain invariant properties of the voice that indicate how trustworthy or competent a person is. This is in line with the idea that we can train ourselves to sound more or less competent, more or less dominant, depending on the context (e.g., job interviews). After hearing just one word, listeners rapidly create a social voice space, where voices are grouped according to two main dimensions, one emphasizing traits of valence (trustworthiness, warmth) and other emphasizing strength (dominance, aggressiveness). These two personality dimensions are very relevant and respond to evolutionary pressures. Obtaining information about the intent of the others helps individuals to appropriately evaluate whether to approach or to avoid interaction with others.

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning - Scientific American

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique human ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.

Ask Unorthodox: What Should I Call Really Religious Jews? – Tablet Magazine

What, then, about haredim? The Hebrew word is lifted from Isaiah, chapter 66: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” The haredim, then, are those who tremble. In Israel, the word is mainly used by secular Jews to describe their more observant neighbors. It’s not always meant kindly, although the community itself seems to have adopted it, naming one of its leading news sites Behadrei Haredim, or in the rooms of the haredim. So is that word OK? Not really, Shafran replied. “I’m not fond of the word,” he said. “Firstly, it implies that non-haredim are less observant, which isn’t necessarily true. And secondly, while we may shuckle when we daven, we don’t generally tremble (unless the IRS is auditing us).” What word, then? What term to use? “Personally,” said Shafran, “I prefer ‘Orthodox.’ Let prefixes be used by others: centrist, modern, ultra-modern. We’re the original, in no need of a prefix.” Amen to that. And to all our friends, Orthodox and unorthodox alike, Shabbat Shalom.

How Learning New Words Could Help You Be Happy in Life | Time

Lomas lists the German Fernweh, which describes a longing to travel to distant lands, a kind of homesickness for the unexplored. Also delightful is the Danish morgenfrisk, describing the satisfaction one gets from a good night’s sleep, and the Latin otium, highlighting the joy of being in control of one’s own time.

Students learn Italian playing Assassin's Creed video game -- ScienceDaily

In a class called Intensive Italian for Gamers, all students made progress equal to two semesters of Italian over the course of a single fall semester. By the final, students were 3 to 5 points ahead of students in a traditional Italian course.

Methodological considerations in the measurement of subjective well-being - OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being - NCBI Bookshelf

What we do know in this field raises some concern – for example, in the case of evaluative measures, Bjørnskov (2010) states that the English word happy is “notoriously difficult to translate”, whereas the concept of satisfaction better lends itself to precise translation (p. 44). Veenhoven (2008) equally notes that perfect translation is often not possible: “If it is true that the French are more choosy about how they use the word “happy”, they might place the option “'très heureux' in the range 10 to 9, whereas the English raters would place “very happy' on the range of 10 to 8” (p. 49). When Veenhoven tested this issue with Dutch and English students, the Dutch rated “very happy” as being equivalent to 9.03 on a 10-point scale, whereas the English rated it at 8.6 on average.

Whether our speech is fast or slow, we say about the same -- ScienceDaily

"It seems the constraints on how much information per second we should transmit are fairly strict, or stricter than we thought they were," Cohen Priva said. In information theory, rarer word choices convey greater "lexical information," while more complicated syntax, such as the passive voice, conveys greater "structural information." To stay within the channel, those who talk quickly speak with more common words and simpler syntax, while those with a slower pace tend to use rarer, more unexpected words and more complicated wordings, Cohen Priva found. The study provides only hints about why a constrained information rate might govern conversation, Cohen Priva said. It could derive from either a speaker's difficulty in formulating and uttering too much information too quickly or from a listener's difficulty in processing and comprehending speech delivered at too fast a pace.

Can big data yield big ideas? Blend novel and familiar, new study finds -- ScienceDaily

We found that what makes an idea creative as judged by both consumers and firms' executives is a mix of ingredients (words) that includes a balance between words that commonly appear together (familiar combinations) and words that do not (novel combinations)." Thus, a creative idea is not simply an idea that includes novel ingredients, but combinations of words that are novel when appearing together balanced with combinations of ingredients that are more familiar. For example, if one generates an idea for an app that would help people live healthier lives and includes the words "running," "counting" and "steps," this would not classify the idea as creative, as all three of these words are fairly frequently used together. However, including the word "calendar" as an additional ingredient would take the idea in a more creative direction, for example the creation of a calendar app in which you could track daily movement and accomplishments. Even though the word "calendar" may not be novel with respect to the topic of health apps in and of itself, its combination with "running," "counting," and "steps" is novel.

Variations in Facebook Posting Patterns Across Validated Patient Health Conditions: A Prospective Cohort Study. - PubMed - NCBI

Significantly correlated language topics among participants with the highest quartile of posts contained health terms, such as "cough," "headaches," and "insomnia." When adjusted for demographics, individuals with a history of depression had significantly higher posts (mean 38, 95% CI 28-50) than individuals without a history of depression (mean 22, 95% CI 19-26, P=.001). Except for depression, across prevalent health outcomes in the sample (hypertension, diabetes, asthma), there were no significant posting differences between individuals with or without each condition.

The Morality of Language

In 1986, Michael Bond and Tat-ming Lai found that Chinese-English bilinguals were more open to discussing embarrassing topics, such as intimate sexual information, when chatting in their non-native language. And in 2010 Jean-Marc Dewaele found that multilinguals from the United Kingdom preferred swearing in their second language, claiming that it allowed them to escape from cultural and social restrictions.

Scientists Uncover Alzheimer’s Disease in the Novels of Agatha Christie and Iris Murdoch

As Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep—an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”

What Learning Looks Like: Researcher Teaches Fake Words To Watch Learning Happen | KPBS

Abel has crafted more than 700 of these sentence sets so she can chart the progression in brain activity as children hear them. In this way, she can actually see learning happening. It starts with a big dip on the line graph during the first sentence, "The boys fought over the shap." That dip means Duncan is confused — his neurons aren't sure what he’s just encountered. The second and third sentences add context. "They played catch with the shap. I like to throw the shap." The dip gets shallower and shallower until it becomes a peak on the line graph. "So the third time they hear the nonsense word, it looks like their brain is processing it like it's a real word," Abel said. "The brain is responding to it the exact same way that the brain responds to a known word."

How Vector Space Mathematics Reveals the Hidden Sexism in Language

The team does this by searching the vector space for word pairs that produce a similar vector to “she: he.” This reveals a huge list of gender analogies. For example, she;he::midwife:doctor; sewing:carpentry; registered_nurse:physician; whore:coward; hairdresser:barber; nude:shirtless; boobs:ass; giggling:grinning; nanny:chauffeur, and so on. The question they want to answer is whether these analogies are appropriate or inappropriate. So they use Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to ask. They showed each analogy to 10 turkers and asked them whether the analogy was biased or not. They consider the analogy biased if more than half of the turkers thought it was biased.

Drop your voice to win the debate ... hmmm

In the first of two experiments, 191 participants (ages 17 to 52) individually ranked the importance of 15 items they were told they might need to survive a disaster on the moon. They then worked in small groups on the same task. The researchers videotaped these interactions and used phonetic analysis software to measure the fundamental frequency of each utterance. They also looked at "how one person's answers converged with the group's final answer" as another way to measure influence, Cheng said. The study participants and outsiders viewing their interactions tended to rate those whose voices deepened between their first and third utterances as more dominant and influential than participants whose voices went up in pitch. None of the subjects or the outside observers was aware that the study focused on the relationship between vocal cues and status.

Some anti-words

The breadth and range of the terms can be astonishing; a lexicography of Boobslang reaches more than 200 pages, with 3,000 entries covering many areas of life. To be “under the thumb” is to be in love, a “double yoker” is an idiot, a “cue ball” is a skinhead and a “goodnight kiss” is a knockout punch. Outside of prison, each type of crime will have its own specialised vocabulary. A 1980s survey of American confidence tricksters, for instance, found a variety of colourful names for their intended victims – they are an “apple”, an “egg”, a “fink”, or, most innocuously sounding, “Mr Bates”.

Specificity and generality in relation to friends and enemies

Describing a person's behavior concretely, using action verbs -- for example, "Sam hit her friend" -- typically signals that the behavior is a one-time occurrence and not necessarily characteristic of that person. Describing someone's behavior using adjectives and nouns, on the other hand -- for example, "Sam is violent" -- comes across as more abstract and suggests that the behavior may reflect a personal trait. Prior research has also demonstrated that we tend to use these linguistic subtleties in a favorable way when we're talking about people who belong to the same group as us: We're likely to use abstract language in discussing their desirable behaviors and concrete language in describing their undesirable behaviors. If we're talking about someone from another group, however, the pattern reverses -- we tend to use concrete language to describe positive behaviors, and abstract language to describe negative ones.

How brain architecture leads to abstract thought: Scientists link brain architecture to consciousness and abstract thought -- ScienceDaily

all cognitive behaviors exist on a hierarchy, starting with the most tangible behaviors such as finger tapping or pain, then to consciousness and extending to the most abstract thoughts and activities such as naming. This hierarchy of abstraction is related to the connectome structure of the whole human brain, they add.

Are We Different People in Different Languages?

This is part of what Mikhail Bakhtin was getting at when he wrote “…language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between ones’ self and the other… The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes one’s “own” only when the speaker populates it with his own intentions, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention.”

Friendship as an idiom

Hanging out with a set of lifelong best friends can be annoying, because the years of inside jokes and references often make their communication unintelligible to outsiders. But this sort of shared language is part of what makes friendships last. In the longitudinal study, the researchers were also able to predict friends’ future closeness by how well they performed on a word-guessing game in 1983. (The game was similar to Taboo, in that one partner gave clues about a word without actually saying it, while the other guessed.) “Such communication skill and mutual understanding may help friends successfully transition through life changes that threaten friendship stability,” the study reads. Friends don’t necessarily need to communicate often, or intricately, just similarly.

Don't interview customers, walk in their shoes: almost by definition, key assumptions don't get articulated

But there are certain things participants may never think to tell us. Frequently, these are moments they don’t recognize as disruptions to their experience, but rather, they see them as small annoyances or frustrations that they have adjusted to over time. To catch a glimpse of these small but highly significant moments, we need to conduct field research. Field research, put very simply, is getting out of the lab and into the world to talk with and observe people in their environment. It’s trying our best to walk in their shoes, see their point of view, and understand the context they live and work in. By seeing it ourselves, we recognize workarounds, physical artifacts, and motivations that are essentially invisible to our participants.

Could dolphins, evolved in a tooless soup, imagine inanimate objects having names?

Herzing swims with her right arm stretched out in front of her, pointing at a red scarf she has pulled out of her swimsuit. She repeatedly presses the button for “scarf” on the CHAT box. It’s a rolling chirp that dips low and ends high, lasting about a second. One of the dolphins swims over, grabs the piece of fabric, and moves it back and forth from its rostrum to its pectoral fin. The scarf ends up hanging from the dolphin’s tail as she dives down to the bottom of the ocean. I’m in the water with Herzing, trailing a few feet behind her with a graduate student who’s recording the encounter using an underwater camera. I keep waiting for one of the dolphins to take off with the scarf, but neither of them does. They seem to want to engage us, however tentatively. They pass the scarf back and forth, circle around us, disappear with it, and then offer it back to Herzing. She grabs it and tucks it back into her swimsuit and then pulls out a piece of seaweed. Nereide swoops down to grab it between her teeth and starts to swim off. Herzing takes off after her, pressing the CHAT box’s sargassum whistle again and again, as if desperately asking for it back. But the dolphins just ignore her. “It’s not inconceivable that if the dolphins understand that we’re trying to use symbols, that they would try to show us something,” Herzing says later, back on board the Stenella. “Or imagine if they started using our word for sargassum amongst themselves.”

Dolphin names

Dolphins use distinct “signature whistles” to identify and call to one another. Each dolphin is thought to invent a unique name for itself as a calf and to keep it for life. Dolphins greet one another at sea by exchanging signature whistles and seem to remember the signature whistles of other dolphins for decades. Though other species, like vervet monkeys and prairie dogs, make sounds that refer to predators, no other animal, besides humans, is believed to have specific labels for individuals.