Tag: language

Turncoat Employees Reveal Their Intentions in Subtle Word Choices

By Paul Taylor, Lancaster University | February 18, 2014 1:49 pm

office email

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Most office workers send dozens of electronic communications to colleagues in any given working day, through email, instant messaging and intranet systems. So many in fact that you might not notice subtle changes in the language your fellow employees use.

Instead of ending their email with “See ya!”, they might suddenly offer you “Kind regards.” Instead of talking about “us,” they might refer to themselves more. Would you pick up on it if they did?

These changes are important and could hint at a disgruntled employee about to go rogue. Our findings demonstrate how language may provide an indirect way of identifying employees who are undertaking an insider attack.

My team has tested whether it’s possible to detect insider threats within a company just by looking at how employees communicate with each other. If a person is planning to act maliciously to damage their employer or sneak out commercially sensitive material, the way they interact with their co-workers changes.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: language, psychology

The More Names Change, the More They Sound the Same

By Julie Sedivy | February 7, 2013 2:08 pm

Julie Sedivy is the lead author of Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You And What This Says About You. She contributes regularly to Psychology Today and Language Log. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, and can be found at juliesedivy.com and on Twitter/soldonlanguage.

 

These days, I can’t seem to keep straight which of his friends my son is hanging out with on any given day—was it Jason, Jaden, Hayden, or Aidan? Their names all have a way of blurring together. My confusion reflects a growing trend for American boys’ names to sound more and more alike, according to a recent New York Times piece reporting on data gathered by Laura Wattenberg of BabyNameWizard.com.

It’s not as if the pool of available names is shrinking though. Quite the opposite. A couple of generations ago, parents mostly stuck with a handful of tried-and-true classics (James, Richard, William); the ten most common names were shared by more than a third of boys in 1950. These days, only nine percent of boys sport the ten most common names. But this recent burst of innovation in names shows more restraint than variety when it comes to their sounds. For example, 36 percent of newborn American boys have names that end in “n”, as compared to just 14 percent in 1950.

This might seem paradoxical, but in fact, it’s a fairly typical aspect of name invention (as my co-author Greg Carlson and I have discussed in our book Sold on Language). When creating a new word of any sort, whether it’s a common noun, verb, baby name or even a brand name, there’s a tendency to gravitate toward known sound patterns. Truly original names, like Quatergork, or Ponveen haven’t yet made it into my son’s social circle. Novelty, it seems, thrives best when it’s a variation on the familiar.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: language, linguistics, names

Does Speaking in a Second Language Make You Think More, or Feel Less?

By Julie Sedivy | May 30, 2012 8:45 am

Julie Sedivy is the lead author of Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You And What This Says About You. She contributes regularly to Psychology Today and Language Log. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, and can be found at juliesedivy.com and on Twitter/soldonlanguage.


Should homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the military? Let me rephrase that: Should gay men or lesbians be allowed to serve in the military?

You may have detected within yourself a subtle emotional shift between these two questions. For many Americans, according to a 2010 poll by CBS and The New York Times, those subtly different gut reactions actually led to different responses depending on how the question was worded; people were more receptive to having “gay men and lesbians” than “homosexuals” in the military.

The poll reflects one of the weirder aspects of human cognition: that for all of our capacity for rational, analytical thought, we can have different feelings about the same thing—even make different decisions about it—depending on the language used to talk about it. This phenomenon, known as the framing effect, creates some brisk business for marketers and political communications experts. For example, Frank Luntz, a high-profile consultant for Republican candidates, earns his keep by testing the emotional vibrations set off by language, and keeps lists of words that work, and words that don’t. In advancing a conservative agenda, for example, you should never use phrases like public health care, drilling for oil, or tax cuts; you should instead say government-run health care, energy exploration, and tax relief. (You can find a brief video profile of Luntz and his techniques here, taken from the 2004 PBS documentary The Persuaders.)

That’s probably no way to run a democracy. After all, the economic impact of reducing taxes is the same whether you call it cuts or relief. And it’s probably no way to make investment choices either, or a decision about medical treatment, or render a verdict in a murder trial. So one of the most useful questions that psychology can answer is what can be done to shift the mind away from an instinctive, gut-reaction mode to a more thoughtful and deliberative one.

In an intriguing study reported in the April 2012 issue of Psychological Science, Boaz Keysar and his colleagues found that bilinguals were immune to framing effects and other cognitive biases—but only when working through problems in their non-native language.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

What If Music and Language Are Neither Instinct nor Invention?

By Mark Changizi | April 19, 2012 8:42 am

Mark Changizi is an evolutionary neurobiologist and director of human cognition at 2AI Labs. He is the author of The Brain from 25000 FeetThe Vision Revolution, and his newest book, Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.”


Earlier this week there was a debate on the origins of music at the Atlantic between two well-known psychologists. Geoffrey Miller (author of The Mating Mind) thinks music is an instinct, one due to sexual selection. On the other side is Gary Marcus (author of Guitar Zero), who believes music is a cultural invention. Given my recent book on the issue, Harnessed, many have asked me where I fall on the question, Is music an instinct or an invention?

My answer is that music is neither instinct nor invention—or, from another perspective, music is both—and this debate provides an opportunity to remind ourselves that there is a third option for the origins of music, an option that I have argued may also underlie our writing and language capabilities.

What if music only has the illusion of instinct? Might there be processes that could lead to music that is exquisitely shaped for our brains, even though music wasn’t something we ever evolved by natural seletion to process? Music in this case wouldn’t be merely an invention, one of the countless things we do that we’re not “supposed” to be doing and that we’re not particularly good at—like logic or rock-climbing. Instead, music would fit our brain like a glove, tightly inter-weaved amongst our instincts…but yet not be an instinct itself.

There is such a process that can give the gleamy shine of instinct to capabilities we never evolved to possess. It’s cultural evolution.

Once humans were sufficiently smart and social that cultural evolution could pick up steam, a new blind watchmaker was let loose on the world, one that could muster designs worthy of natural selection, and in a fraction of the time. Cultural selection could shape our artifacts to co-opt our innate capabilities.

Cultural evolution is an old idea, but there has been a resurgence of interest in it thanks to researchers like Stanislas Dehaene and Laurent Cohen, who have studied how writing neuronally recycles parts of our visual object-recognition hardware (see Reading in the Brain). And in my research I have tried to get down to brass tacks on how culture manages to harness our brain hardware.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts

Santorum’s Slipping Tongue: What Do Speech Errors Really Reveal About Inner Thoughts?

By Julie Sedivy | April 2, 2012 2:13 pm

Julie Sedivy is the lead author of Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You And What This Says About You. She contributes regularly to Psychology Today and Language Log. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, and can be found at juliesedivy.com and on Twitter/soldonlanguage.

Last week, a verbal stumble by Republican candidate Rick Santorum led to a fresh batch of accusations that he harbors racist sentiments. Here is a video clip and transcript, from a speech delivered on March 27th 2012 in Janesville, Wisconsin:

We know, we know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like. The anti-war government nig- uh, the uh America was a source for division around the world.”

Almost immediately, this video clip began to zip around the internet, with many people arguing that Santorum had caught himself in the middle of uttering a racial slur against Barack Obama, inadvertently revealing his true attitude. The presumption behind these arguments is that “Freudian slips” reflect a layer of thoughts and attitudes that sometimes slip past the mental guards of consciousness and bubble to the surface. That they’re the window to what someone was really thinking, despite his best efforts to conceal it.

But decades of research in psycholinguistics reveal that speech errors are rarely this incriminating. The vast majority of them come about simply because of the sheer mechanical complexity of the act of speaking. They’re less like Rorschach blot tests and more like mundane assembly-line mistakes that didn’t get caught by the mind’s inner quality control.

Speech errors occur because when it comes to talking, the mind cares much more about speed than it does about accuracy. We literally speak before we’re done thinking about what we’re going to say, and this is true not just for the more impetuous amongst us, but for all speakers, all of the time. Speech production really is like an assembly line, but an astoundingly frenzied one in which an incomplete set of blueprints is snatched out of the hands of the designers by workers eager to begin assembling the product before it’s fully sketched out.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Why Do African and English Clicks Sound So Different? It’s All in Your Head

By Julie Sedivy | February 13, 2012 2:05 pm

Julie Sedivy is the lead author of Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You And What This Says About You. She contributes regularly to Psychology Today and Language Log. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, and can be found at juliesedivy.com and on Twitter/soldonlanguage.

What’s the most exotic, strange-sounding language you’ve ever heard? I recently popped this question to a group of English speakers at a cocktail party. Norwegian and Finnish were strong contenders for the title, but everyone agreed that the prize had to go to African “click languages” like the Bantu language Xhosa (spoken by Nelson Mandela) or the Khoisan language Khoekhoe, spoken in the Kalahari Desert. Conversations in such languages are liberally sprinkled with clicking sounds that are made with a sucking action of the tongue, much like the sounds we might make when spurring on a horse or expressing disapproval. You may have been introduced to one of these click languages spoken by Kalahari Bushmen in the 1980 film The Gods Must be Crazy. Below is an example, and if you’d like to try your hand at making Xhosa click sounds, you can find a quick lesson here.

To English ears, Xhosa speech often comes across a bit like highly-skilled beatboxing, mixing recognizeable speech with what sounds like the clacking of objects striking each other. My cocktail party friends wanted to know “How do they click and talk at the same time?” To a native speaker of Xhosa, this is a really weird question, much like asking “How do they make the consonants t or p and talk at the same time?” The late African singer Miriam Makeba, in introducing this 1979 performance of her famous “Click Song,” put it like this: “Everywhere we go, people often ask me ‘How do you make that noise?’ It used to offend me, because it isn’t a noise, it’s my language.”

If clicks do sound like exotic noises to you, it might surprise you to know that there’s nothing especially difficult about making click sounds in speech—they’re easily mastered by toddlers who still struggle making truly difficult sounds like s and z. And it might really surprise you to learn, as found in a recent study by Melissa Wright at Birmingham City University, that as an English speaker, you likely riddle your own speech with click sounds, using them much more frequently and systematically than just the occasional “tsk” of disapproval. If that’s so, why on earth do the African clicks sound so strange to English speakers, to the point of being un-language-like?

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Leave Los Niños Alone! The Mental Costs of Linguistic Assimilation

By Julie Sedivy | January 19, 2012 12:33 pm

Julie Sedivy is the lead author of Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You And What This Says About You. She contributes regularly to Psychology Today and Language Log. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary, and can be found at juliesedivy.com and on Twitter/soldonlanguage.

Due to a migratory childhood (born in Czechoslovakia, and eventually landing in Montreal via Austria and Italy), English was the fifth language I had to grapple with in my tender years. On my first day of kindergarten, I spoke only a few words of English. I could see that my teacher had some concerns as to how well I would integrate linguistically; my stumbling English was met with pursed lips.

The pursed-lips reaction of my teacher is shared by many who advocate English-only legislation for the U.S., seeking to ban the use of other languages in schools, government documents, and even radio stations and signs on private businesses. The common worry is that making it easier for immigrants to function in their native language is a form of enabling—it prevents them from learning English, hobbling their full entry into American society. Over the past few decades, the waves of Latin American immigrants have only increased such concerns. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 1980, less than 11% of the population spoke a language other than English at home. By 2007, that number had grown to almost 20%. If you looked no further, you might see this as evidence of a potential threat to the English-speaking identity of the U.S.

But these fears are misplaced. Just like I did, most young immigrants from any country eventually master English. It’s true that the rate of Spanish-only speakers in the U.S. has increased dramatically, and that these immigrants often cluster in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. But a more telling statistic is what happens to such families a few generations after they’ve arrived. As Robert Lane Greene reports in his book You Are What You Speak, it’s the same thing that’s happened to all immigrant groups in the U.S.: within the space of a few generations, they not only function perfectly in English, but in the process lose their heritage language. Even among Mexican immigrants, currently the slowest group in the U.S. to shed their ancestral language, fewer than 10% of fourth-generation immigrants speak Spanish very well. As Greene points out, who needs disincentives to speak the heritage language when the economic and cultural imperatives to speak English are already so great?

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Bursting the Bubble of Human Intelligence

By Mark Changizi | December 7, 2011 10:01 am

Mark Changizi is an evolutionary neurobiologist and director of human cognition at 2AI Labs. He is the author of The Brain from 25000 FeetThe Vision Revolution, and his newest book, Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.”

I’m king of the world! You are too. We humans—all of us—get props for being the smartest Earthlings. And we’re not merely the smartest. No, we’re the only species worth writing home about; we’re the only truly worth building artificial intelligence to mimic. We’re the smart ones. The rest of the diversity of life may be rich in clever design, like well-engineered tools and gadgets, but they’re not designed to be intelligent. That’s for humans. Rationality and intelligence is something natural selection granted us.

But…what if our Homo sapiens intelligence is radically overrated? What if we’re smarter, but only quantitatively so, not qualitatively? What if many of our Earthly cousins are respectably intelligent after all? More intriguingly, what if there are systematic barriers that lead us to overestimate our true level of intelligence relative to that of others? And, although I won’t get into this here, what are the implications for the rights of chimpanzees, if the chasm between us and them is, instead, a slender fault line? That question has led to a recent movement to ban invasive research on chimpanzees in the U.S., a measure that the EU has already adopted.

Here I’ll discuss just two barriers, a little one and a big one, that conceal how smart we really are—or are not.

Individuality: The Little Bubble

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

The Crux

A collection of bright and big ideas about timely and important science from a community of experts.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »