Archive for August, 2009

Fry’s English

Posted on August 7th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Events, Words | Leave a Comment »

fry's-delightStephen Fry’s a British actor/comedian/etc. with (I think) a wonderfully pleasant-to-listen-to voice.

So, luckily for me, he’s presented a radio show on the English language, which you can listen to through the internet if you’re sadly unable to pick up BBC radio waves.

Called Stephen Fry’s English Delight, the series “explores the highways and byways of the English language”.

The second show of the second series

…examines how ‘wrong’ English can become right English. For example, nowadays, more people use the word ‘wireless’ in a computer context than in a radio one. With help from a lexicographer, an educationalist, a Times sub-editor and a judge, Stephen examines the way in which usage changes language.

Definitely worth a listen if you’re interested in this aspect of language, or just want to hear the dulcet tones of Mr Fry.

Monkeying with grammar

Posted on August 4th, 2009by Michelle
In Grammar, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

Monkey looking at bookBad news if your grammar is terrible – even monkeys can recognise your mistakes.

Well… sort of. Researchers have said that a particular kind of monkey are able to hear if the order of syllables in a word is “wrong”.

The cotton-top tamarins were first familiarised with two-syllable terms, and then tested the following day to see how they reacted to familiar and unfamiliar word patterns. The study found that the monkeys “looked to the speaker” when unfamiliar words were presented.

Of course, the researchers weren’t merely having fun playing with monkeys, the results have implications for humans also:

Marc Hauser, who was also involved in this study, told BBC News that the results showed how human language had incorporated memory processes that were not “language-specific”.
“Simple temporal ordering is shared with non-human animals,” he said. “This has an important role. In bird song or whale song, for example, there’s a temporal ordering to the notes and that’s critical for communication.”
And it goes beyond that. “In primates, this ordering is vital for learning,” explained Professor Hauser. “In tool use, primates learn from each other that you do this first, then you do that, then it’s that.”
Professor Hauser described how evident this innate ability is when a child learns language.
“As a child learns to use the past tense,” he said, “they may generalise and use a suffix wrongly, but they will never generalise in the wrong direction. “You never hear them say ed-walk instead of walked.”

Read the full article here, or the full research paper here.