The language of guns

Tweet We should watch our gun language. The New York Times has an article today, “In Gun Debate, Even Language Is Loaded,” documenting the pervasive gun references in our language.  I speak six languages, and in thinking about each, I believe the article is correct — we have far more expressions, verbs, and nouns which […]

More on the beginning of language

Tweet At the end of the 19th century, a Xam/San man (we call them “Bushmen”) in South Africa looked at a figure in a prehistoric rock painting and said “That’s a shaman!” (This account taken from The Mind in the Cave, by David Lewis-Williams, published by Thames & Hudson in 2002.) Nobody knows for certain […]

Virtual reality

Tweet Years ago, a friend said he thought that young people today were blurring the distinction between real and virtual relationships.  I said that was ridiculous, that human beings would always need the sights, smells, and touch of other human beings. A relationship based on language alone would never prove gratifying. Now I wonder.  My […]

Bilingualism makes us smarter longer

Tweet An article in The New York Times today makes the case that not only does bilingualism make us smarter as children, it also wards off mental deterioration in older people. I might add my own two cents on this subject. There is no time in life when bilingualism is anything less than a great bonus […]

Area X: The Genes of song

Tweet I learned something new today — yes, our genetic makeup influences how we  behave, but our behavior also changes or enhances our genetic makeup.  It’s a two-way street. That is somehow hopeful. As reported in the journal Neuron, a UCLA team of researchers “discovered that some 2,000 genes in a region of the male zebra […]

Where do ideas come from?

Tweet One area of linguistics, Psycholinguistics, concerns itself with how the mind creates the matter which produces ideas.  Ideas are a precursor to the words which express them — a Chinese speaker and an English speaker can view a work of art or a car accident and have the same “idea,” but the words which […]

Steven Pinker Interview

Tweet An interview with Steven Pinker on the nature of language, and the window it provides into the human psyche and mind, is available on The New York times website.  It would be an interesting short video to show to classes.

Raising bilingual babies

Tweet Some of my friends are raising their children bilingual.  One couple of lives in Austria — the father is Austrian, the mother is Czech.  Another lives in Washington DC — the father is American, the mother is German.  The couples speak both languages at home, but they also take their children back to the […]


Tweet My linguistics professor once posed the question, “What is an idea?” I must admit that I am still unsure. There is a complex process which occurs between thinking something and speaking or writing it. When we speak, we have not taken the time to figure out exactly what we think beforehand. The American Heritage […]

Challenging Languages’ Universality

Tweet One of the controversial claims that Noam Chomsky presented in his original research was that language is universal and innate.   In David Crystal’s A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics” (4th ed. 1990), this concept is defined this way:  “…universals provide a theory of the human language faculty — those properties of language which […]