Tag Archives: linguistics

Help the Oxford English Dictionary Solve Dictionary Mysteries

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 7.11.33 PMThe Oxford England Dictionary (OED) is seeking help from the public in solving some dictionary mysteries. Do you have input on the history of the words or phrase(s): def, suicide (drill), “something for the weekend,” “Meandering of Memory,” Long Island iced tea, mullet, luvvie, demon bowler, and more (see their list of words here).

For information on what constitutes evidence and how to submit it, see their guidelines here.

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Scientists apply Genetic Estimates to Homer’s Iliad

iliad-2-TOPHomer’s Iliad is one of the most famous works of Bronze Age Greece. Its date and composition, however, is one of the academically controversial. Recently, a group of researchers at the University of Reading applied the same techniques to researching genetic evolution (using the rate of genetic mutation) to the evolution of language. Using this method, they determined that the Iliad was written approximately 762 BCE +/- 50 years; a date consistent with historical theories.

“Languages behave just extraordinarily like genes.It is directly analogous. We tried to document the regularities in linguistic evolution and study Homer’s vocabulary as a way of seeing if language evolves the way we think it does. If so, then we should be able to find a date for Homer.” — Mark Pagel, Ph.D.

To learn more about the process and extensive findings, see the article published at Inside Science, “Geneticists Estimate Publication Date of the ‘Iliad‘” or the paper, published in the Journal of BioEssays.

Linguists Use Modern Technology to Crack 18th Century Code

A Section of the Copiale Cipher

A team of linguists and computer scientists from America and Sweden have cracked one of the oldest, undeciphered codes in history: the Copiale Cipher. The hand-written work is more than 100 pages in length and is a combination of symbols and letters.

The linguists and computer scientists used a code-breaking technique to ‘crack’ the language – essentially viewing translation as decipherment. While the “breaking” of this linguistic code is a huge breakthrough for linguistics, it still does not solve the issues of translation of older, still-undeciphered languages.

“There are these books and ancient languages of real historical value that contain historical information that we just can’t get out yet, and that’s of interest to a lot of people,” – Dr. Knight

To learn more about this recent discover, see the article in the New York Times.

Maya Hieroglyphics – a study in Linguistics

National Geographic has an amazing article today about the evolution of our understanding of Maya hieroglyphs.

Our understanding of maya hieroglyphs is constantly evolving and has a special place in archaeological theory.

Most Neanderthals Were Righties – Sorry Lefties…

Sorry lefties, it looks like right-handedness has been around longer than modern civilization and well into the early hominid tree. Current data on stone-tools indicate that the overwhelming majorities of Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) were righties. Additionally, current theories on brain mapping link ‘handedness’ to hard-wired language found only in Homo sapiens:

Scientists have linked prevalent right-handedness in human populations to a left brain hemisphere that controls right-sided body movements and enables critical language functions.

Current studies on the wear pattern of early hominid teeth suggests that our ancestors enjoyed blabbering away! Read more about these developments in Science News.