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Michael Fox

How Children Learn Language | Steven Pinker | Big Think - 0 views

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    "Children are Hard-Wired with Universal Grammar

    Another important contribution of Chomsky to the science of language is the focus on language acquisition by children. Now, children can't memorize sentences because knowledge of language isn't just one long list of memorized sentences, but somehow they must distill out or abstract out the rules that go into assembling sentences based on what they hear coming out of their parent's mouths when they were little. And the talent of using rules to produce combinations is in evidence from the moment that kids begin to speak. "
Michael Fox

The False Digital Imperative | Teaching Writing in a Digital Age - 0 views

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    One of the concerns that I am left with as the influx of digital media pervades composition classrooms is a concern that Nicolas Carr writes about in his widely read Atlantic Magazine article, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Digital media supplies information, but it also shapes the process of thought. He openly talks about his experience with feeling like his intellect has dwindled as the internet makes information so accessible that we are not burdened, and thus enlightened, by the search of answers any longer:
Michael Fox

The Benefits of Being Bilingual | Wired Science | Wired.com - 0 views

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    Samuel Beckett, born in a suburb of Dublin in 1906, was a native English speaker. However, in 1946 Beckett decided that he would begin writing exclusively in French. After composing the first draft in his second language, he would then translate these words back into English. This difficult constraint - forcing himself to consciously unpack his own sentences - led to a burst of genius, as many of Beckett's most famous works (Malloy, Malone Dies, Waiting for Godot, etc.) were written during this period. When asked why he wrote first in French, Beckett said it made it easier for him to "write without style."

    Beckett would later expand on these comments, noting that his use of French prevented him from slipping into his usual writerly habits, those crutches of style that snuck into his English prose. Instead of relying on the first word that leapt into consciousness - that most automatic of associations - he was forced by his second language to reflect on what he actually wanted to express. His diction became more intentional.

    There's now some neat experimental proof of this Beckettian strategy. In a recent paper published in Psychological Science, a team of psychologists led by Boaz Keysar at the University of Chicago found that forcing people to rely on a second language systematically reduced human biases, allowing the subjects to escape from the usual blind spots of cognition. In a sense, they were better able to think without style.

    The paper is a tour de force of cross-cultural comparison, as the scientists conducted six experiments on three continents (n > 600) in five different languages: English, Korean, French, Spanish and Japanese. Although all subjects were proficient in their second language, they were not "balanced bilingual."

    The experiments themselves relied on classic paradigms borrowed from prospect theory, in which people are asked to make decisions under varying conditions of uncertainty and risk. For instance, native English
Michael Fox

Henry Miller on Originality | Brain Pickings - 1 views

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    "Miller eloquently encapsulates the combinatorial nature of creativity and the constant borrowing and repurposing that takes place as we build upon what came before and recombine existing bits of knowledge and ideas to create what we call "our" ideas.

    And your way, is it really your way?

    […]

    What, moreover, can you call your own? The house you live in, the food you swallow, the clothes you wear - you neither built the house nor raised the food nor made the clothes.

    […]

    The same goes for your ideas. You moved into them ready-made."
Michael Fox

Mark Twain on Plagiarism and Originality: "All Ideas Are Second-Hand" | Brain Pickings - 0 views

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    ""The kernel, the soul - let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances - is plagiarism."

    The combinatorial nature of creativity is something I think about a great deal, so this 1903 letter Mark Twain wrote to his friend Helen Keller, found in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 2 of 2, makes me nod with the manic indefatigability of a dashboard bobble-head dog. In this excerpt, Twain addresses some plagiarism charges that had been made against Keller some 11 years prior, when her short story "The Frost King" was found to be strikingly similar to Margaret Canby's "Frost Fairies." Heller was acquitted after an investigation, but the incident stuck with Twain and prompted him to pen the following passionate words more than a decade later, which articulate just about everything I believe to be true of combinatorial creativity and the myth of originality:

    Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that 'plagiarism' farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul - let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances - is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men - but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some de
Michael Fox

The Benefits of Bilingualism - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    "SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

    This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child's academic and intellectual development.

    They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual's brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn't so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

    Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins - one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

    In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin m
Michael Fox

The Neuroscience of Your Brain On Fiction - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    "MID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

    Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

    Researchers have long known that the "classical" language regions, like Broca's area and Wernicke's area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like "lavender," "cinnamon" and "soap," for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

    In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for "perfume" and "coffee," their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean "chair" and "key," this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like "a rough day" are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like "The singer had a velvet vo
Michael Fox

Comedians can say 'mong' on TV, rules Ofcom - Telegraph - 0 views

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    "Speaking about Britain's Got Talent singer Susan Boyle in October, he said :"She would not be where she is today if it wasn't for the fact that she looked like such a ******* mong."

    Mong is a slang term used to refer to people with Down's Syndrome.

    It is derived from the word "mongrel."

    He went on: "When she first came on the telly, I went: 'Is that a mong?'

    "I don't mean she has Down's Syndrome, by the way. No, no! That would be offensive. That word doesn't mean that any more."

    Channel 4 claimed that using the word was justified in the context of late-night humour.

    It said the comment was not "directed at Susan Boyle as having a disability but at those who refuse to acknowledge that meanings of words can adapt over time".

    The company said it needed to experiment and defended the entertainer's right to freedom of expression.

    Ofcom said in its ruling that Gervais was exploring the interpretations and meanings of certain provocative words.

    He was examining the changes in their associations over time, with a focus on his assertion that the word "mong" had lost its derogatory association with Down's Syndrome.

    The regulator said: "This involved Ricky Gervais evoking the word's offensiveness to some extent, and challenging the relationship between the offence and the word itself.

    "We considered, therefore, that the nature and focus of the routine provided a clear editorial context for his use of the term." "
Michael Fox

A Way with Words: Language and Human Nature : NPR - 1 views

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    "In English, we can babble, bark, bleat and bray. But we can also ask, cite, pose, preach and tell. Psychologist Steven Pinker says that studying how we use these verbs provides a window into human nature. Pinker discusses his new book, The Stuff of Thought.

    Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature; professor of psychology at Harvard University"
Michael Fox

How metaphors shape the debate about crime fighting - 0 views

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    "Imagine your city isn't as safe as it used to be. Robberies are on the rise, home invasions are increasing and murder rates have nearly doubled in the past three years.

    What should city officials do about it? Hire more cops to round up the thugs and lock them away in a growing network of prisons? Or design programs that promise more peace by addressing issues like a faltering economy and underperforming schools?

    Your answer -- and the reasoning behind it -- can hinge on the metaphor being used to describe the problem, according to new research by Stanford psychologists. Your thinking can even be swayed with just one word, they say."
Michael Fox

Hearing Bilingual - How Babies Tell Languages Apart - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    Once, experts feared that young children exposed to more than one language would suffer "language confusion," which might delay their speech development. Today, parents often are urged to capitalize on that early knack for acquiring language. Upscale schools market themselves with promises of deep immersion in Spanish - or Mandarin - for everyone, starting in kindergarten or even before.

    Yet while many parents recognize the utility of a second language, families bringing up children in non-English-speaking households, or trying to juggle two languages at home, are often desperate for information. And while the study of bilingual development has refuted those early fears about confusion and delay, there aren't many research-based guidelines about the very early years and the best strategies for producing a happily bilingual child.

    But there is more and more research to draw on, reaching back to infancy and even to the womb. As the relatively new science of bilingualism pushes back to the origins of speech and language, scientists are teasing out the earliest differences between brains exposed to one language and brains exposed to two.

    Researchers have found ways to analyze infant behavior - where babies turn their gazes, how long they pay attention - to help figure out infant perceptions of sounds and words and languages, of what is familiar and what is unfamiliar to them. Now, analyzing the neurologic activity of babies' brains as they hear language, and then comparing those early responses with the words that those children learn as they get older, is helping explain not just how the early brain listens to language, but how listening shapes the early brain.

    Recently, researchers at the University of Washington used measures of electrical brain responses to compare so-called monolingual infants, from homes in which one language was spoken, to bilingual infants exposed to two languages. Of course, since the subjects of the study, adorable in their
Michael Fox

Deb Roy: The birth of a word | Video on TED.com - 0 views

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    "MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language -- so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn."
Michael Fox

My bright idea: Guy Deutscher | Science | The Observer - 0 views

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    "Guy Deutscher is that rare beast, an academic who talks good sense about linguistics, his chosen field. In his new book, Through the Language Glass (Heinemann), he fearlessly contradicts the fashionable consensus, espoused by the likes of Steven Pinker, that language is wholly a product of nature, that it does not take colour and value from culture and society. Deutscher argues, in a playful and provocative way, that our mother tongue does indeed affect how we think and, just as important, how we perceive the world.

    An honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, the 40-year-old linguist draws on a range of sources in the book to show language reflecting the society in which it is spoken. In the process, he explains why Russian water (a "she") becomes a "he" once you have dipped a teabag into her, and why, in German, a young lady has no sex, though a turnip has."
Michael Fox

EDGE 3rd Culture: Animal Minds - 0 views

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    "Harvard evolutionary psychologist, Marc D. Hauser, argues that to understand what animals think and what they feel, we must ask about the kinds of selection pressures which shaped their minds and see the creature for what it is, no more, no less. Using the tools of evolutionary biology, linguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive science, he asks questions such as Why can't animals be taught to speak? How do animals find their way home in the dark? Do animals lie or feel guilty? Do they enjoy sex? Why were emotions designed into animal systems? Why are certain emotions universal and others highly specialized? "
Michael Fox

Language in Apes: How Much Do They Know and How Much Should We Teach Them - 0 views

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    Humans have often asserted a fundamental difference between themselves and other animals. One of these assertions which has had many proponents into the twentieth century is that humans differ from animals in their use of language. In the past thirty years this assertion has been the subject of much debate as scientists have researched language use by apes. (I use the term "ape" to refer to "great ape" in this essay, as many of my sources do. There have apparently been no language experiments with gibbons or siamangs.) Extraordinary claims have been made by some researchers about the linguistic capabilities of their subjects, mostly chimpanzees. These claims have been refuted and counter-refuted many times, and the literature on the subject is extensive. In this essay I will examine the question of how much, if at all, primates are able to communicate using language. I will then examine the ethical issues surrounding the teaching of language to apes.

    What is language?

    First, what is language, and how does it differ from other forms of communication? There does not exist a universally accepted definition of language, or criteria for its use; this is one of the reasons for the disagreement among scientists about whether apes can use language. Language consists of various aspects which people believe are more or less important, for example, grammar, symbol usage, the ability to represent real-world situations, and the ability to articulate something new (Wallman 1992: 6). Duane Rumbaugh describes language as "an infinitely open system of communication" (Rumbaugh 1977b: xx). Some people say that anything an ape can do is not language; of course, if these are the same people who say that language defines us as humans, and an ape can learn sign language, then they are saying that deaf people who use sign language are not human (Patterson & Linden 1981: 119-120). One famous view of language is Charles Hockett's seven key properties: duality, productivity, arbitrariness,
Michael Fox

Can Chimps Talk: Can Konzi Go to College - 0 views

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    "MR. HOFFMAN: Konzi is a Benobo, a pygmy chimpanzee. He and his sister, Pambinisha, are the subjects of Doctor Sue Savage Rumbaugh's work. That work is questioning the widely accepted view that only humans are capable of language. For 20 years, she's been studying whether Benobos can learn language, working first with their mother, Matata, back in 1975.

    SUE SAVAGE-RUMBAUGH, Georgia State University: We were trying to do some very simple things like hold up an apple and teach Matata to hit the symbol for apple, and then we would give her an apple. She learned that. What we wanted then to be able to do was to have her use the symbol for apple whenever she was talking about an apple, whether she was intending to eat it or not, to know in a sense that the symbol represented apple, not just the fact that she was going to get apple. This, she couldn't learn, but fortunately, she had a youngster named Konzi, who was around and was playing while I was trying to teach her, and Konzi did learn, even though we weren't trying to teach him. What we found with Konzi was that simply by watching what we did with his mother, he was able to make this correlation so that he knew that the symbol apple represented apple, whether he got to eat one, whether his mother got to eat one, whether we were saying, no, Konzi, don't eat an apple, it still meant apple. "
Michael Fox

People Can Talk. Other Animals Can't. DISCOVER Magazine - 1998 - 0 views

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    "People can talk. Other animals can't.

    They can all communicate in one way or another--to lure mates, at the very least--but their whinnies and wiggles don't do the jobs that language does. The birds and beasts can use their signals to attract, threaten, or alert each other, but they can't ask questions, strike bargains, tell stories, or lay out a plan of action.

    Those skills make Homo sapiens a uniquely successful, powerful and dangerous mammal. Other creatures' signals carry only a few limited kinds of information about what's happening at the moment, but language lets us tell each other in limitless detail about what used to be or will be or might be. Language lets us get vast numbers of big, smart fellow primates all working together on a single task--building the Great Wall of China or fighting World War II or flying to the moon. It lets us construct and communicate the gorgeous fantasies of literature and the profound fables of myth. It lets us cheat death by pouring out our knowledge, dreams and memories into younger people's minds. And it does powerful things for us inside our own minds, because we do a lot of our thinking by talking silently to ourselves. Without language, we would be only a sort of upright chimpanzee with funny feet and clever hands. With it, we are the self-possessed masters of the planet.

    How did such a marvelous adaptation get started? And if it's so great, why hasn't another species come up with something similar? These may be the most important questions we face in studying human evolution.

    They are also some of the least understood. But in the past few years, linguists and anthropologists have been making some breakthroughs, and we are now beginning to have a glimmering of some answers."
Michael Fox

Standardized Tests' Measures Of Student Performance Vary Widely: Study - 0 views

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    "The United States has 50 distinct states, which means there are 50 distinct definitions of "proficient" on standardized tests for students.

    For example, an Arkansas fourth-grader could be told he is proficient in reading based on his performance on a state exam. But if he moved across the border to Missouri, he might find that's no longer true, according to a new report. "
Michael Fox

Abortion Foes Push To Redefine Personhood : NPR - 0 views

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    "Last year's GOP takeover of the U.S. House and statehouses across the country has dramatically changed the shape of the nation's abortion debate. It has also given a boost to an even more far-reaching effort: the push to legally redefine when life itself begins.

    The question being raised in legal terms is: When does someone become a person?

    The answer varies under the law. "The definition of personhood ranges if you're talking about property law, or inheritance, or how the census is taken," says Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project.

    All those differences are exactly what Keith Mason wants to change. He's president of Personhood USA, a group that's trying to rewrite the laws and constitutions of every state - and some countries - to recognize someone as a person "exactly at creation," he says. "It's fertilization; it's when the sperm meets the egg."

    Mason says the basic problem is that science has advanced faster than policymaking.

    "We know, without a shadow of a doubt, when human life begins," he says. "But our laws have not caught up to what we know."

    And according to his organization, those laws should recognize every fertilized egg as an individual and complete human being."
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