A curated mix of articles on language.

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Friday, Oct 4, 2019

This Simple Structure Unites All Human Languages

Human language is amazingly creative. If you make up a sentence of any complexity, and search for that exact sentence on the Internet, it’s almost never there. Virtually everything we say is novel. Yet at the heart of this capacity of ours lies an incredibly simple piece of mental technology: Merge. Merge takes two bits of language, say two words, and creates out of them another bit of language. It builds the hierarchical structures of language.

Wednesday, Jul 3, 2019

The Cryptic Language of Non-Verbal Communication

Scientists are starting to decipher the things we don’t say with words.

Monday, May 20, 2019

MIT Scientists prove adults learn language to fluency nearly as well as children

You can become fluent in a language in a few years of work, I see it all the time. This paper further proves that even starting much later in life, it’s still possible (if not as common) to reach incredibly high levels of mastery.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

500 Days of Duolingo: What You Can (and Can’t) Learn From a Language App

Free language learning apps often promise the world — but don’t expect fluency from one. Here’s what to expect before you sign up.

Monday, Feb 25, 2019

Our Language Affects What We See

Does the language you speak influence how you think? This is the question behind the famous linguistic relativity hypothesis, that the grammar or vocabulary of a language imposes on its speakers a particular way of thinking about the world.

Thursday, Jul 12, 2018

Where Are You From?

Accents are a point of connection. We’re constantly influenced by the people around us, and that extends to accents — any American who’s moved to London will hear from the people at home that they’ve gone all fancy, even though they themselves probably can’t hear it. This happens subconsciously, and it’s extremely difficult to change your accent on purpose. But we’re always adjusting the way we speak to match the people around us.

Monday, Jun 11, 2018

More than 2,000 of the world’s languages are dying out

According to UNESCO, there are currently 2,464 threatened languages spoken around the world. 592 are classified as “vulnerable”—children still learn them, but they are not necessarily used widely in daily life—while the rest, the vast majority of the world’s languages, are seen as “endangered.”

Monday, Jan 29, 2018

My Forgotten Language

How the brain can lose — and reclaim — an abandoned mother tongue.

Monday, Dec 4, 2017

A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest

Thanks to the research efforts of the Foreign Service Institute, the center of foreign-language training for the United States government for the past 70 years, you can get a sense of how much time it takes, as a native or native-level English speaker, to master any of a host of languages spoken all across the world.

Tuesday, Sep 12, 2017

We still have no idea why humans speak over 7,000 languages

Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet? As it turns out, we have few clear answers to these fundamental questions about how humanity communicates.

Friday, Jul 21, 2017

Why do human beings speak so many languages?

Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet? As it turns out, we have few clear answers to these fundamental questions about how humanity communicates.

Monday, Mar 20, 2017

The Sticky Truth about Modern Written Language

The oldest written language in the world didn’t have an alphabet. When written language began, it wasn’t used to ‘sound out’ words the way many writing systems do today; instead, each symbol represented a word (or occasionally part of a word).

Monday, Jan 2, 2017

The Strange Persistence of First Languages

Losing your native tongue unmoors you not only from your own early life but from the entire culture that shaped you.

Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016

We went in search of the world's hardest language

English is pretty simple. Learning to speak Ubykh or !Xóõ presents more of a challenge.

Thursday, Nov 3, 2016

To those who became fluent in a second language, what did you do?

I’m overwhelmed by all the options out there. Duolingo, pimsluer, classes, books, etc. What did you do to become fluent in another language? How long did it take you?

Thursday, Jul 21, 2016

The World's Most Efficient Languages

How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?

Monday, Jun 20, 2016

How do you communicate when you don't speak the language?

Can some of you that live or have lived in a country where you don’t speak the language tell me about your experiences. I mean essentially you have to figure out some way to communicate. How do you communicate with people who are providing you accommodations. Or how do you figure out what you want and communicate that to a waiter at a restaurant. Just really curious how you make it day to day.

Monday, Jun 13, 2016

How memory research can help you learn a new language

Moving beyond the obvious idea that more practise is better, it is likely that practise is most effective when combined with sufficient deep sleep.

Monday, May 23, 2016

How to identify any language at a glance

Thanks to globalization, it’s very likely that at some point you’ve found yourself faced with a line of text written in a language you couldn’t quite identify. Maybe in the international section of a grocery store, or on Facebook, for example. “What the heck is this language?” you ask yourself.

Monday, Oct 26, 2015

Beginner's Guide to Language Learning

Here’s my take: I’m not especially good at learning languages. What I am good at is being passionate about languages, talking to people, and being diligent, which are just some of the skills required to effectively learn a language. In any case, after giving the same advice over and over, I finally decided to write a short guide that explains how I go about learning a new language.