Headline October 09, 2016/ ''' *BIOLOGY* & LANGUAGES '''


*BIOLOGY MAY AFFECT  the way we invent words,* writes Sarah Kaplan, A nose is a nose by any other name.  

OVER A CENTURY AGO, Ferdinand de Saussure  -one of the founders of modern linguistics   -wrote about the arbitrary relationship- between signals or [the words we use] and signified the concepts- we're trying to describe.

For example there's nothing inherent about the term 'cat' that calls to mind the fluffy, mildly standoffish felines we keep in our homes. That we can say 'cat' and other English speakers know what we're talking about is a result of a convention.

IF YOU VISITED ICELAND  and asked someone what they called the smelling organ in the middle of their face, they'd tell you, nev.

In Japan,  it's hana. To Sar speakers in southern Chad, it's kon, and among the Zuni tribe of southwestern  United States, it's noli. In fact, you could go to more than  1,400  places around the world-

Question speakers of more than 1,400  different languages, and hear 1,400 words that contain the sound,  'n''. But all of them mean the same thing : nose.

That's one of the findings of a sweeping study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] Monday, which found evidence of strong associations between the sounds we pick to signify certain concepts are arbitrary, the researchers argue that at least some associations are more universal than you'd think.

''Most models for how words come into our lexicon are predicated on this assumption that the sound doesn't tell you anything about what it represents,''  said Jamie Reilly, a cognitive psychologist and speech pathologist at  Temple University  who was not involved in the study.

''So the really neat thing about this paper is it sort of questions whether that arbitrariness assumption actually holds across all words.''
''It's going to end up being a very important study,'' he said.

It's a hallmark of what makes human languages unique among animal communication systems, said Morten Christiansen, a language scientist at Cornell University and one of the authors of the PNAS study.

''In other animal systems there's a more a direct relationship between what a signal means and what comes across.''

Humans, on the other hand, are sophisticated enough to come up with tens of thousands of otherwise meaningless sounds and be able to keep track of exactly what they stand for.

Still, there have been hints that the sounds we choose for certain concepts aren't entirely random. A series of studies starting in 1929 have documented what's called the  'bouba/kiki' effect     

People from societies across the world almost universally associate round shapes with the made-up word  'bouba'  and spiky shapes with the non-word 'kiki'. 

Within languages research has shown that sounds can become associated with ideas  -for example, English words having to do with sight, like 'glance', 'glimmer' and 'glare' all start with the sound 'gl'.

And Reilly was co-author on a recent study that found that English speakers can distinguish between words for concrete terms and those representing abstract concepts, even when the words come from languages they don't understand.

The notion that vocal sounds carry meaning in and of themselves, and that meaning can be snapped onto the ideas they're used to represent, is called 'sound symbolism'.

Though linguists have acknowledged its existence for decades, 'it's been sort of marginalised as not being super contributory to how languages evolve,'' Reilly said.

Christiansen's work pushes sound symbolism back to the forefront. He and his team, which included statisticians, neuroscientists, physicists and computer scientists, examined the words for  100 concepts in more than 6,000 languages in search of commonalities.

They weren't looking for universal rules  -just examples of associations that popped more often than you'd expect due to pure chance.

''We took a big data approach,'' Christiansen said. '' We were trying to see if, for a given concept, are people across the world more likely to use a particular sound in association with this concept.''

The Honour and serving of the latest operational research on *Languages & Societies*  continues. Thank Ya all for reading and sharing forward. And see you on the following one.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the World.  See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society and........Twitter-!E-WOW!  -the Ecosystem 2011:

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Good Night and God Bless

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