March 01, 2005


language, piecemeal

I’m recently discovering the general neatness of Google Scholar, that being one of the many bits that the place is welding onto its chassis more or less each day. I’ve sort of known it existed before, but tonight was the first night I poked around with it. A couple neat bits:

This paper (direct link to PDF file) revolves around studies indicating that infant brains are already distinguishing between native language and non- at early ages where a lot of folks tend to think of them as, in general, non-interactive weakly-flailing drool-and-poop machines. The likelihood is this is based almost entirely on prosody—the general rhythm of sound, stresses, tone and silence in any given language, which tend to vary from one another—in cases where they don’t, babies tend to orient attention at them more or less equally at first.

This is one of those makes-sense-when-you-think-of-it sort of things, of course. One of the hardest bits about understanding spoken speech doesn’t really occur to you until you try to learn other languages even in a minor way—there’s an unconscious tuning to the rhythms of inflection and barely-distinguishable pauses that allow, more often than not, native English speakers to understand whether the other guy just said “a nice box” or “an ice box” even when not enunciating all that clearly. Prosody being the underlying system, with semantics and context on top of that.

The other bit’s an abstract only, that I sort of wish I could see the full article behind. Though not really to the tune of forking out for it. Apparently the bits of the brain that assist in recognizing sarcasm are distinct from the bits that handle comprehension of others’ emotional states, and by extension, their intentions.

posted by Gar @ 3:54 AM
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