language
Why Are Some People Better at Learning Multiple Languages Than Others?

Some people pick up languages like colds, or sunburns – without effort, through simple immersion in the atmosphere. Others can’t hear the word ‘conjugate’ without flashing back, in shame, to the classrooms where they failed, so long ago, to shake the curse of monolingualism. What exactly is it that allows the first group to stride around making small talk in Spanish and reading Kafka in the German while the rest of us struggle with just one language? For this week’s Giz Asks, we reached out to a number of language experts to find out. Read More >>

star trek
Patrick Stewart Might Be Responsible for How We All Say Data Now

Pop culture can have a huge effect on society, influencing how we dress, what we eat, what we say (“hasta la vista, baby”), and even how we pronounce certain words. Brent Spiner believes the way we all say the word “data” now was directly influenced by his Star Trek: The Next Generation co-star Patrick Stewart. Read More >>

science
Analysis of Ancient DNA Suggests Finnish and Estonian Languages Came From Siberia

Northern Europeans who speak Uralic languages, such as Estonian and Finnish, can thank ancient migrating Siberian populations for their dialects, according to a fascinating new study that combined genetics, archaeology, and linguistics. Read More >>

linguistics
University Researchers Want Us To Use ‘Forgotten’ Words

Presumably fed up with the youth of today using txt spk and nonsense slang, a team of academics at University of York have dug up a list of old words that they hope to see getting used again. Read More >>

aliens
How Would We Actually Talk To Aliens Once They Arrive?

If anything, cinema has trained us to be suspicious of aliens: When a ship turns up from outer space, you can bet that it is going to end up with someone getting hurt. And this is what makes Arrival such a remarkably different film. Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, the film is proper grown-up science fiction, in which a linguist (Adams) and a physicist (Renner) must work together in order to learn how to communicate with the alien lifeforms. Read More >>

language
What Arrival Gets Right About Talking to Superintelligent Noisesquids From Space

It’s difficult for linguists to explain to people we meet what it is that we do, and why we are so fascinated with it. Finally, popular culture is giving us a reference point. Arrival doesn’t assume we’ll be able to communicate with aliens with some advanced technology that makes no sense. Instead, it explores how that kind of “universal translator” could come to be in the first place. Read More >>

science
The Science of How and Why We Swear

When President Obama signed the legislation for health care reform in 2010, his salty vice president, Joe Biden, was caught on tape telling his commander-in-chief, “This is a big fucking deal.” It made headlines, even though it should shock nobody that hey—sometimes politicians swear, just like the rest of us. Read More >>

science
Does Your Name Sound More Masculine or More Feminine?

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a baby name. My parents, for instance, did enjoy the work of Carly Simon before choosing mine, and I have a relatively normal name. It could be a fandom thing, such as with the babies named Anakin or the children named after Game of Thrones characters. Read More >>

history
Isaac Newton Once Tried To Invent His Own Language 

The great 17th century physicist Isaac Newton is known for many things. There’s his laws of motion and theory of gravity. Plus, the dude invented calculus, wrote a lengthy treatise about optics, and dabbled in alchemy for good measure. But few people know that as a young student, Newton tried to invent his own universal language. Read More >>

politics
A New AI Can Write Convincing Political Speeches

Truly rousing political speeches are, sadly, few and far between. But those that are a little less inspiring can, it turns out, be convincingly written by an artificial intelligence system. Yes, politicians may be a little like robots. Read More >>

watch this
There’s Something Strange About the Lyrics in This 1970s Song

Here’s something fun to brighten your Monday. It’s a song by Adriano Celentano called “Prisencolinensinainciusol”, which can in equal parts improve your workout playlist and tell you about how your tongue is perceived. Read More >>

chatroom
What Should We Call The “@” Sign?

A New York Times article points out that many languages have creative names for the @ symbol. The Dutch refer to it as a monkey’s tail. For Italians, it’s a snail. But in boring old English, we just say “at”. Let’s get creative. Read More >>