The Birth and Death of Words?

CHRISTOPHER SHEA Can physicists produce insights about language that have eluded linguists and English professors? That possibility was put to the test this week when a team of physicists published a paper drawing on Google’s massive collection of scanned books. They claim to have identified universal laws governing the birth, life course and death of … Continue reading

Angry Words

Will one researcher’s discovery deep in the Amazon destroy the foundation of modern linguistics? By Tom Bartlett A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In … Continue reading

Word for Word

Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Peter Mark Roget I can see my own copy up on a high shelf. I rarely open it, because I know there is no such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous around people who always assemble with their own kind, forming clubs and nailing signs to … Continue reading

Language lessons: You are what you speak

By Christine Kenneally. LANGUAGES are wonderfully idiosyncratic. English puts its subject before its verb. Finnish has lots of cases. Mandarin is highly tonal. Yet despite these differences, one of the most influential ideas in the study of language is that of universal grammar. Put forward by Noam Chomsky in the 1960s, it is widely interpreted … Continue reading