Category Archives: Hearing and Language

Language as a thought magnet

Today’s New York Times has a wonderful feature article on how language shapes our perception of the world. The infamous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed that our understanding was limited by language and has long been used as an example of a ‘dead theory’ but new evidence is suggesting that certain aspects of a language can indeed […]

Infamous last words

The September issue of The Psychologist is completely open-access and has a fantastic article on the last words of executed prisoners. The piece is by media analyst Janelle Ward who has been studying the final statements of prisoners executed by the US state of Texas, who list death row departees and their final words on […]

Why we go doolally

Someone who acts strangely or ‘goes mad’ is often described as having gone ‘doolally’. The military origin of this curious term is discussed in an aside in an academic article published in Twentieth Century British History. The article discusses the changing concepts of how imprisonment during war impacts on soldiers’ mental health: POWs were originally […]

World without words

The latest edition of RadioLab is a fantastic exploration of how the world might be different if we experienced it without the benefit of words that shape our concepts. As always, it sounds effortlessly beautiful, and this episode takes a diverse look at the different ways in which we might understand our lives wordlessly. Essentially, […]

Tone deaf to the music of language

Amusia is a condition in which people can’t distinguish musical notes or tunes. This has been investigated for the first time in Mandarin Chinese, a language that relies on tones to convey meaning, with the study finding that music perception problems also affect the ability to distinguish spoken words in tone language speakers. One common […]

Plastic punk

Some awesome geek moves from the science of phonetics, as applied to the new wave punk classic ‘√áa Plane Pour Moi’ previously and falsely believed to have been sung by Plastic Bertrand. From the AV Club report: A staple of any new-wave dance night (ask a white person), ‚ÄúCa Plane Pour Moi‚Äù made a chart-stopping […]

The tools of language and the craft of understanding

Stanford Magazine has a fascinating article on how speakers of different languages think differently about the world. The piece focuses on the work of psychologist Lera Boroditsky and covers many of her completely intriguing studies about how the conceptual tools embedded within languages shape how we think. “In English,” she says, moving her hand toward […]

The endangered languages of New York City

The New York Times covers a fantastic project that is attempting to track down some of the world’s most endangered languages – by scouring the streets of the Big Apple. The Endangered Language Alliance is a project that aims to connect speakers of rare tongues but also to use the opportunity to study the languages […]

Discussing the False Prophets

In light of the retraction of the infamous Lancet paper that first started the MMR panic, the Point of Inquiry podcast has a fantastic interview with doctor and vaccine developer Paul Offit who has received death threats for publicly refuting the spurious connection between childhood jabs and autism. He’s also the author of the book […]

The obscure tools of language

The Economist has an article based on rather a daft premise (‘in search of the world’s hardest language’) that nevertheless manages to cover numerous interesting ways in which diverse languages demand mental somersaults from the speaker or require that the speaker has to think about the world in specific ways. Beyond Europe things grow more […]

Can’t get you out of my head

Sometimes songs get ‘stuck in our head’. In German, this experience is known as having an ‘earworm‘ and a new study shortly to be published in the British Journal of Psychology surveyed the typical features of this common phenomenon. What particularly struck me was that “the length of both the earworm and the earworm experience […]

More on hallucinated voices in deaf people

After a post we featured earlier this year on whether deaf people can hear hallucinated voices, I was sent an amazing study that attempted to distil the variety of ‘hearing voices’ experiences in deaf people. It was published in the journal Cognitive Neuropsychiatry in 2007 (there’s a full text copy available online as a pdf) […]

Straight outta Bedlam

I’ve just found an odd study on whether rap and heavy rock music encourages ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in psychiatric patients when compared to easy listening and country tunes. It sounds like it could be something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but as I don’t have access to the full text, I’m still not sure […]

The archaeology of language

ABC Radio National’s Ockham’s Razor has a short but thoroughly fascinating programme on how human pre-history and cultural change can be uncovered through the study of languages. It’s an eye-opening insight into how patterns in our language are relics of our past and how they can be a window into the interplay of societies. The […]

Don’t stand so close to me

There’s a neat study in Perception finding that listening to music through headphones warps our comfort zone of interpersonal space. The researchers asked participants to walk up to another person from various angles until they reached the edge of their comfort zone. Without them knowing the researchers measured the distance, and this was compared between […]

Language as a looking glass

Edge has a fantastic essay on how the language we speak can affect how we experience and think about the world. The piece is by psychologist Lera Boroditsky whose work has shown that the not only are there differences across people with different mother tongues, but that asking people to use different words can affect […]

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