The number zero is something we all take for granted, yet its conceptual origin has eluded archaeologists and historians. An updated analysis of an ancient Indian manuscript is shedding new light on this longstanding mystery, showing that the symbol that would eventually evolve into the number zero emerged at least…
Come to UC Berkeley for the chance to study Game of Thrones’ beloved fictional languages with the linguist who helped create them, stay for the absurd hilarity that is the university’s fight song, delivered as a Dothraki war cry. No, really.
New research shows that macaques have a vocal tract capable of emitting human-like speech, but they lack the brain circuitry to make words happen. That may be a good thing, because their simulated speech is creepy as hell.
It’s difficult for linguists to explain to people we meet what it is that we do, and why we are so fascinated with it. Finally, popular culture is giving us a reference point. Arrival doesn’t assume we’ll be able to communicate with aliens with some advanced technology that makes no sense. Instead, it explores how…
If you’ve ever been to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you know that an inability to communicate can be frustrating, if not a bit scary. But in Arrival, when 12 shell-shaped UFOs land across the world, everything seems to hinge on the skills of Amy Adams’ linguistics expert, Louise—just as the…
So before you feel tricked by a technicality: Inuktitut does have a written language, but it’s just not an alphabet. Instead, as Tom Scott explains, it uses a related system of symbols to express sounds called an abugida.
When President Obama signed the legislation for health care reform in 2010, his salty vice president, Joe Biden, was caught on tape telling his commander-in-chief, “This is a big fucking deal.” It made headlines, even though it should shock nobody that hey—sometimes politicians swear, just like the rest of us.
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a baby name. My parents, for instance, did enjoy the work of Carly Simon before choosing mine, and I have a relatively normal name. It could be a fandom thing, such as with the babies named Anakin or the children named after Game of Thrones characters.
The great 17th century physicist Isaac Newton is known for many things. There’s his laws of motion and theory of gravity. Plus, the dude invented calculus, wrote a lengthy treatise about optics, and dabbled in alchemy for good measure. But few people know that as a young college student, Newton tried to invent his own…
While investigating non-English words associated with positive emotions and concepts, a British researcher recently discovered 216 foreign words for which there is no English translation.
Truly rousing political speeches are, sadly, few and far between. But those that are a little less inspiring can, it turns out, be convincingly written by an artificial intelligence system. Yes, politicians may be a little like robots.
Is this a forest? That depends on what you mean.
Here’s something fun to brighten your Monday. It’s a song by Adriano Celentano, called “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” and it can, in equal parts, improve your work-out play list and tell you about how you’re perceived.
The State Department just released over 7,000 of Hillary Clinton’s emails. In one exchange with her senior advisor Phillipe Reines, the presidential hopeful has a very important question: “on this new berry can I get smiley faces?”
A New York Times article points out that many languages have creative names for the @ symbol. The Dutch refer to it as a monkey’s tail. For Italians, it’s a snail. But in boring old English, we just say “at.” Let’s get inventive.
With viral memes and hashtags sweeping the internet on the daily, language is evolving faster than conventional dictionaries can keep up. You may have been “procrastatweeting” about the “popepocalypse” last week, but the stalwart publishers of the Oxford English won’t give your neologisms official recognition for…
Internet shorthand is ubiquitous, but in our desire to get words out quickly, meaning can be muddled or lost. Case in point: Accent marks, one of the foremost linguistic casualties of the digital age. Now, defenders of the Spanish language are trying to bring the neglected markings back.
Imagine the day when we finally receive a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence, only to find that there’s a message embedded within. Given that we don’t speak the same language, how could we ever hope to make sense of it? We spoke to the experts to find out.