Gringo Manaba

Adventuras y Fantasias or Fantastical Adventures

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Archive for February 6th, 2006

The Rain in Spain is Mainly on the Brain

Posted by glasscastle on 6th February 2006

Researchers have long wondered why certain fundamental characteristics
of grammar are present in all languages, and now a team of scientists
at the University of Rochester has found evidence that these properties
are built into the way our brains work. The report, recently published
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examines deaf
individuals who have been isolated from conventional sign, spoken, and
written language their entire lives, and yet still developed a unique
form of gesture communication.

"Our findings suggest that certain fundamental characteristics of
human language systems appear in gestural communication, even when the
user has
never been exposed to linguistic input and has not descended from previous
generations of skilled communicative partners," says Elissa L. Newport,
George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics
at the University of Rochester. "We examined a particular hallmark
of known grammatical systems and found that these signers also used this
same hallmark in their gestured sentences. They designed their own language
and wound up with some of the same rules of grammar every other language
uses."

For eight years, Newport and Marie Coppola, a post-doctoral student at
the University of Chicago, studied three deaf Nicaraguan boys who had no
exposure to any sign formal language. They were linguistically separated
from spoken language by virtue of their complete deafness since birth;
separated from knowledge of Nicaraguan Sign Language because they’d never
had contact with another signer; and separated from written Spanish since
they had little or no formal education. This isolation forced each of the
three boys to develop their own gestural-based language, called ‘home sign
systems’ in the field of sign language research. These three isolated languages
gave Coppola and Newport a window into how the brain creates language.

from the University of Rochester

At first we thought this was real science. Then we read it.  There
is a very simple explanation for the observed phenomena which has nothing
to do with brain development. The researchers forgot the basic fact that
any language, be it sounds or gestures, is developed two or more individuals
in the course of communication. The deaf kids didn’t invent their languages
by themselves. They developed them in conjunction with, and to
communicate with, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. Who in
every case, according to the study, were NOT deaf.

We know this to be the case because our wife, the lovely Norma Yvonne,
speaks one of these micro languages.  Her brother Bolivar has been
deaf from birth, and they, brother and sister, have their own language
of gestures.  Bolivar never learned standard sign language, and
can’t read or write Spanish. None of Norma’s six sisters or one
other brother knows the language, nor does her Mom.

But the fact that these micro languages are invented by at least TWO people,
at least one of whom can hear and already knows a conventional language, easily
explains why these gesture languages feature syntax similar to spoken
language. Rochesterians are famous for overlooking the obvious…

Posted in Weird Science | Comments Off on The Rain in Spain is Mainly on the Brain

Good Writing Wants to be Read

Posted by glasscastle on 6th February 2006

Boy,
reading the New
York Times Tough Shit
Op-Ed pieces by their "big
guns" Kristoff, Dowd, Herbert and Friedman for free keeps getting harder
and harder. Decent writers, all, but hardly worth the price of the
paper
alone
on the
days you
don’t
have
time or energy to read more than a couple of columns.

When the Times first went over to a Premium Subscriber pay-to-read model
they were decried as uncaring corporate capitalists. For a few days,
in a show of insolence and solidarity, half the blogosphere was reprinting
the password protected columnists en masse. Some
sites
prominently published all
of the restricted content – but now no longer do so. Burnout or back
down?

The easiest way to find the column you wanted was to subscribe to the
RSS
feed
for the New York Times Opinion list, and then copy the titles
of the articles you wanted to read and paste them into the search field
of Technorati. For a few months
there the top ten searches (prominently displayed at the top of the main
Technorati
page) were peppered with "Maureen Dowd" and "Nicholas
Kristoff" and the titles of that day’s Premium Content.

Suddenly, when we got back from our trip abroad, this was no longer
true.
 Had people lost interest, or were the search results being manipulated?
A Technorati search for one of today’s authors "Paul
Krugman
",
leads only to sites which reprint PART of the column and then link to
the New York Times members-only site. Have the Gray Lady’s Lawyers been
sending cease and desist love letters to the Technorati brain trust?

A more functional alternative today seems to be Google’s new Blog
Search
, which looks
relatively unmoderated. A search for "Do
You Know What They Know
" (the
title of today’s Herbert column ) leads to 5 complete reprints of the
entire column on different blogs among the top results.  It seems
that the full reprinters are still out there, but smaller and more occasional
targets.
Go Google!
Slay that gray dragon.

Of course, the Google Blog Search is still a beta service, so maybe
the Times legal department will get to them before the final version
is released.
So enjoy it in the meantime – we did to uncover the following succinct
sentence from the abovementioned Herbert column.

The Bush administration, by exploiting
the very real fear of terrorism, and
with
the connivance
of
Republican
majorities
in
both
houses
of Congress,
has run roughshod over constitutional guarantees that had long
been taken for granted.

read the WHOLE piece at Free Democracy

Posted in Media News | Comments Off on Good Writing Wants to be Read