Category Archives: Language

All change in the Bronze Age

MYKHAILIVKA, a village on the right bank of the River Dnieper in Ukraine, lies dangerously close to the front line of Russia’s war on its western neighbour. Seventy years ago, however, it was the site of an excavation by Ukrainian archaeologists. There, they discovered one of the earliest known settlements of the Yamnaya culture…

Facial reconstruction of a western Yamnaya. Reconstruction: Emese Gábor, Magyarságkutató Intézet. Photograph: Hajdúsági Museum, Hajdúböszörmény.

This article first appeared online in The Economist on 5 May 2024 (and in the magazine on 11 May 2024). To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Could whistling shed light on the origins of speech?

FOR centuries, shepherds from the small village of Aas in the French Pyrenees led their sheep and cattle up to mountain pastures for the summer months. To ease the solitude, they would communicate with each other or with the village below in a whistled form of the local Gascon dialect, transmitting and receiving information accurately over distances of up to 10 kilometres…

This article first appeared in The Observer on 26 September 2021. To continue reading, click here.

 

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

Tongue twisters

IN 1882, linguists were electrified by the publication of a lost language—one supposedly spoken by the extinct Taensa people of Louisiana—because it bore hardly any relation to the languages of other Native American peoples of that region. The Taensa grammar was so unusual they were convinced it could teach them something momentous either about the region’s history, or the way that languages evolve, or both…

This article was first published in Slate on 30 October 2019. To continue reading, click here.

The AI composer

COMPUTER scientist Luc Steels uses artificial intelligence to explore the origins and evolution of language. He is best known for his 1999–2001 Talking Heads Experiment, in which robots had to construct a language from scratch to communicate with each other. Now Steels, who works at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), has composed an opera based on the legend of Faust, with a twenty-first-century twist. He talks about Mozart as a nascent computer programmer, how music maps onto language, and the blurred boundaries of a digitized world….

This article first appeared in Nature on 14 September 2017. To continue reading, click here.