A couple of months ago, Swedish TV4 caused a bit of a scandal when they said their subtitles were done by machine. They then backtracked on that, but given some of the mistakes they make, it’s hard to know what to think. Here’s an article about it.
This episode of the Shelf Life program from the American Museum of Natural History is all about languages and it looks really interesting. Here is the information I received:
“At the American Museum of Natural History, we have tons of content that visitors don’t get to see, including the research our scientists do. So, we have been releasing new videos each month about our collections, each packed with exciting behind-the-scenes content, and we are reaching out to science bloggers like you, who we know love science as much as we do, to help show off our amazing collections.
This month is all about languages, and how an anthropologist and a computational biologist come together to study ancient languages in the 7th episode of the Shelf Life series, The Language Detectives.”
Since becoming a
parent, I’ve gotten even more interested in children, their language
acquisition, and their development, so I recently read The Scientist in the
Crib by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl.
The book is about how
children learn about the world and what we adults can learn from studying
children, especially babies. There’s a chapter particularly about how children
learn language. But what is actually involved in learning a tongue? “First, you
have to break up the continuous stream of sounds into separate pieces and
identify each sound accurately...Then you have to string the sounds together
into words...Then you need to understand all the nuances of meaning each word
can have...And, finally, you have to figure out something about the larger
intent of the sentence.” (p. 92-3) Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl call it
“code-breaking” and say how challenging it is, but “most complicated of all,
people speaking different languages hear sounds totally differently.” (p. 96)
But what does language
do for us anyway? Well, ”the most obvious advantage of language is that it lets
us communicate and coordinate our actions with other people in our group…The
fact that we speak different languages also lets us differentiate between
ourselves and others…And the development of language is probably linked to the
development of our equally distinctive ability to learn about people and
things. It allows us to take advantage of all the things that people before us
have discovered about the world.” (p. 100)
Here’s how it works: “Babies
master the sounds of their language first, and that makes the words easier to
learn….Babies seem to learn some general rules about the words in their
particular language before they learn the words themselves.” (p. 109) As
parents, we need to talk to our babies often, especially in a slow and slightly
exaggerated way, so they can hear the sounds and then start understanding the
If, like me, you hope
your child will learn a language from a young age, when should you start? The
earlier the better. “Children who learn a second language when they are very
young, between three and seven years of age, perform like native speakers on
various tests…If you learn a second language after puberty, there is no longer
any correlation between your age and your linguistic skill…Early in development
we are open to learn the prototypes of many different languages. But by the
time we reach puberty, these mental representations of sounds are well formed
and become more fixed, and that makes it more difficult to perceive the
distinctions of a foreign language.” (p. 192-3)
The Scientist in the
Crib is an interesting, if somewhat repetitive, book, and I recommend it to
parents in particular.
Brave New Reads is a great summer reading program run by Writers’ Centre Norwich. It encourages people to take a chance on books that they wouldn’t necessarily ordinarily read. Although the activities (including reader workshops that I run) are solely in the East Anglia region, the book suggestions are for anyone. I especially appreciate how at least one book each year is a translation!
Originally from Chicago, I lived in southern Sweden for nearly 5.5 years, and moved to southern Wales in September 2006. I completed a Ph.D. translation studies in June 2009 at Swansea University, with a dissertation on the translation of children's literature.
Now I live in Norwich, England, where I am a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I also work as a translator, writer, and editor.
Contact me at bravenewwords (AT) gmail (DOT) com.