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Why Nouns Slow Us Down, and Why Linguistics Might Be in a Bubble | The New Yorker
"Writers and language geeks inherit a ranking system of sorts: verbs good, adjectives bad, nouns sadly unavoidable. Verbs are action, verve! “I ate the day / Deliberately, that its tang / Might quicken me into verb, pure verb,” Seamus Heaney writes, in “Oysters.” A sentence can be a sentence without nouns or adjectives, but never without a verb. For the most part.

But nouns deserve more cognitive credit. A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that nouns actually take longer to spit out than verbs do, presumably because they require more thought to produce. In the study, researchers led by Frank Seifart, a linguist at the University of Amsterdam, and Balthasar Bickel, of the University of Zurich, analyzed hundreds of recordings of spontaneous speech from nine very different languages from around the world: English and Dutch, as well as several others from as far afield as Amazonia, Siberia, the Kalahari, and Tibet. They picked out and compared the spoken renditions of the nouns and verbs, focussing not on how long it took for each word to be spoken but on what was happening in the half-second preceding each word. That tiny window is informative: cognitive scientists have concluded that it takes the brain about that long to formulate its next word, which happens even as a current word or phrase is being spoken.

Which is to say, the future word casts a shadow over the present one. And that shadow is measurable: the researchers found that, in all nine languages, the speech immediately preceding a noun is three-and-a-half-per-cent slower than the speech preceding a verb. And in eight of nine languages, the speaker was about twice as likely to introduce a pause before a noun than before a verb—either a brief silence or a filler, such as “uh” or “um” or their non-English equivalents. That future word, when it’s a noun, is more of a footfall than a shadow, creating a hole in the phrase right before it.

Seifart and Bickel think that this has to do with the different roles that nouns and verbs play in language. Nouns require more planning to say because they more often convey novel information, Seifart told me—that’s one reason why we quickly transition from nouns to pronouns when speaking. Listeners are sensitive to those tiny pauses before a noun, and interpret them as indicating that what follows will be something new or important.

Unlike nouns and pronouns, verbs don’t have “proverbs” to pick up the pace, although we cheat a little with sentences such as, “Susan drank wine and Mary did, too.” Verbs are grammatically more complex than nouns but have less to reveal. When you’re about to say a verb, you’re less likely to be saying something new, so your brain doesn’t have to slow down what it’s already doing to plan for it.

Oddly enough, the one language that doesn’t seem to pre-think its nouns as thoroughly as its verbs is English, Seifart and Bickel found. Although English speakers do slow down their speech immediately before a noun, they use fewer pauses beforehand, not more, when compared to verbs.

“English is peculiar,” Seifart said. English is less useful than we might imagine for understanding what our speech has to say about how we think: “It can never be representative of human language in general,” he said. “To make claims about human language in general, we need to look at much broader array of them.”

In recent years, scientists have grown concerned that much of the literature on human psychology and behavior is derived from studies carried out in Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic countries. These results aren’t necessarily indicative of how humans as a whole actually function. Linguistics may face a similar challenge—the science is in a bubble, talking to itself. “This is what makes people like me realize the unique value of small, often endangered languages and documenting them for as long as they can still be observed,” Seifart said. “In a few generations, they will not be spoken anymore.” In the years to come, as society grows more complex, the number of nouns available to us may grow exponentially. The diversity of its speakers, not so much."
language  languages  weird  nouns  verbs  communication  linguistics  2018  alanburdick  action  frankseifart  balthasarbickel  future  present  speed  speaking  english 
yesterday by robertogreco
From pointing to nodding: is gesture a universal language? | Aeon Essays
"Across vast cultural divides people can understand one another through gesture. Does that make it a universal language?"
gestures  human  humans  communication  language  psychology2018  kensycooperrider 
yesterday by robertogreco
New Sentences: From a Tweet by Seamas O’Reilly - The New York Times
Nitsuh Abebe:
What’s striking about this sentence, though, is the prose. It appears on the social media of the 21st century but is redolent of the 20th — the kind of arch, mock-dignified syntax you’d find in everything from P.G. Wodehouse to John Kennedy Toole to Flann O’Brien (who wrote funny things for one of O’Reilly’s employers, The Irish Times, as Myles na gCopaleen). There’s the stately, even pace of the clauses, like a sentence diagramed by a tweedy lecturer; the stuffy hyperbole of “Cretaceous period”; the little fluff of emphatic plumage in “extravagantly.” Spotting this on Twitter is like spotting a 1951 Studebaker picking up Uber passengers.

This tone thrived in print: When your words appear on paper in elegant typefaces, it makes sense to toy with a sober authorial voice. The internet is different: flat, utilitarian, almost completely dignity-free and populated in large part by people typing incoherent nonsense. The funniest things in an environment like Twitter tend to toy with that, imitating either casual speech or post-literate weirdos who don’t understand punctuation.
twitter  language  humor  wodehouse 
yesterday by madamim
The Cell Programming Language
Cell is a domain-specific programming language designed to integrate with your language of choice in order to provide a number of features that have no equivalent in more conventional languages.

It offers, among other things, a very flexible, entirely structural type system; deterministic, repeatable execution; support for reactive programming; the ability to use relations to store data; transactions and propagation of undefined values for error handling; and orthogonal persistence.

Cell's most important new language construct is automata, which come in two flavors: relational automata and reactive ones.
Programming  language 
2 days ago by mortonfox
Why Sex Work Is A Terrible Analogy, And "Pr*stitute" Is A Slur
This is a very 101 point to make, but the language we use comes with connotations and baggage, some of it discriminatory. As UNAIDS recognises, “the words we choose and the way we put sentences together to share ideas and information have a profound effect on the way messages are understood and acted upon, or not”. Which is why there is a difference between an insult and a slur.
language  whorephobia  sexwork 
2 days ago by mournjargon
SQL++ is a highly expressive semi-structured query language that encompasses both the SQL and the JSON data model. SQL++ is SQL backwards-compatible.
sql  database  language 
2 days ago by slowbyte
The respect of personhood vs the respect of authority
"In April 2015, Autistic Abby wrote on their Tumblr about how people mistakenly conflate two distinct definitions of “respect” when relating to and communicating with others.
Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

This is an amazing & astute observation and applies readily to many aspects of our current political moment, i.e. the highest status group in the US for the past two centuries (white males) experiencing a steep decline in their status relative to other groups. This effect plays out in relation to gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and class. An almost cartoonishly on-the-nose example is Trump referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals” and then whining about the press giving him a hard time. You can also see it when conservative intellectuals with abundant social standing and privilege complain that their ideas about hanging women or the innate inferiority of non-whites are being censored.

Men who abuse their partners do this…and then sometimes parlay their authoritarian frustrations & easily available assault weapons into mass shootings. There are ample examples of law enforcement — the ultimate embodiment of authority in America — treating immigrants, women, black men, etc. like less than human. A perfect example is the “incel” movement, a group of typically young, white, straight men who feel they have a right to sex and therefore treat women who won’t oblige them like garbage.

You can see it happening in smaller, everyday ways too: never trust anyone who treats restaurant servers like shit because what they’re really doing is abusing their authority as a paying customer to treat another person as subhuman."
culture  diversity  language  respect  personhood  authority  jasonkottke  kottke  status  hierarchy  patriarchy  gender  race  racism  sexism  lawenforcement  humanism  humans 
2 days ago by robertogreco
Eat the Rude: Hannibal Lecter meets the 99% / Boing Boing
It makes perfect sense that Lecter is a grammar Nazi; there’s no more cruelly polite way of putting someone in his place than pointing out his malaprops and solecisms, his lower-class dialect, his backwoods or inner-city pronunciation. Lecter’s swipes at Starling’s syntax and usage are fascinating studies in the way class is lived in America; the little, everyday ways we’re kicked back to our stations. And Lecter’s own syntax and vocabulary, not to mention his Buckley-esque sense of grammatical infallibility, have stories to tell, too, about the class insecurities that haunt even the well-bred and the well-read.
hannibal  tv  storytelling  writing  language  class  boingboing  linguistics  dialect  english 
2 days ago by cmananian

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