Tag: languages

We Decode The Secret Language Of Birds

When we talk about birdsong, we cannot simply refer to a single “voice”. It is a great chorus of complex sounds, it is a real language in itself.

The dry “teak” of a sparrow, the plaintive “gheck gheck gheck” of a woodpecker, the shrill “chirrip” of a lark – each sound has its own purpose and is used in very specific circumstances.

For birdwatchers, learning how to ‘decode’ the secret language of birds is a great way to identify different species and to better understand their behaviour.

The language of birds

Just as vowels and consonants provide the foundation for our words and sentences, birds produce a series of calls, songs and melodies in a ‘language’ so nuanced it could rival our very own alphabet!

This is all thanks to a special vocal organ called the syrinx – the size of a pea, it sits at the junction of the trachea and the bronchi in the lungs.

Its structure – which varies with each species – makes such different songs and sounds possible.

Each sound has a different purpose and this, in turn, makes it possible for birds to communicate with each other in different circumstances.




The warning calls

These involve sharp and penetrating sounds – warning signals used by birds whenever they feel threatened and want to warn companions of danger.

They are usually short sounds strong enough to be heard at great distances. The same sound is often used by predatory birds as part of their attack.

The cries for help

Mom Mom Mom!” Just as children call for their mother with arms outstretched, small birds emit little moans and chirps to attract their mother’s attention, often flapping their wings for good measure.

The call intensity is low, but it can still be clearly perceived in the vicinity of a nest. Small birds frequently continue to use these calls after leaving the nest too – because mom is always mom!

The contact calls

Hey, are you all right?” Contact calls for birds are more or less the equivalent of us making sure a friend is ok.

They use contact calls when they travel in flocks, want to call each other or even just share news about a good food source.

These calls are characterised by moderately strong chirps, similar to a “hum” but not as penetrating as the warning calls.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

Bad Language: Why Being Bilingual Makes Swearing Easier

Many bilinguals report “feeling less” in their second language; it does not bear the same emotional weight as your native language.

Feeling less emotionally connected to your second language might make it easier to use highly emotional vocabulary, which is precisely what I was experiencing with my ease of swearing and talking about sensitive topics in English.

The scientific term for this is reduced emotional resonance of language. It is a fairly well-established phenomenon, but many specific questions still remain unanswered.

For example, what exactly makes one’s second language less emotional? How does this affect different immigrant communities?

This research project aims to address these questions by looking into the reasons and implications of reduced emotional resonance in bilinguals’ second language.




It is still unclear what exactly shapes emotional resonance of a language and in what way – results thus far have been inconclusive.

In the first part of my project, we are exploring which factors in a person’s language background contribute to reduced emotional resonance.

For example, is it influenced by the age at which you have learnt your second language? Does it matter how frequently and in which context you use the language?

Or is your emotional experience of a language predictable from whether you dream or can do maths in it?

To investigate these questions, my project uses eye-tracker technology in order to measure bilinguals’ pupil responses to emotional words in English.

Typically, when shown highly emotional words or pictures, people’s pupils dilate as a non-controllable, emotional reaction.

Previous research has shown the effect is smaller in bilinguals’ second language, which suggests reduced emotional resonance.

Understanding the reasons for why this happens can, in turn, help us explain how you experience a foreign language community, and how this could be taken into account in acculturation and adaptation.

However, not all the implications of reduced emotional resonance are negative – bilinguals can actually benefit from being able to approach things in a less emotionally involved way.

For example, bilinguals have been shown to be able to make more rational decisions in their second language.

Also, switching languages can be used as a tool in therapy when working through emotionally difficult or traumatising experiences.

Imagine how it would be if it were easier to talk about your emotions with your partner – maybe bilingual couples have a communicative advantage?

Ultimately, understanding the full scale of implications of reduced emotional resonance is a way to understand how bilinguals experience the world.

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Pass it on: Popular Science