1) William Alexander’s “The Benefits of Failing at French” is an amusing NY Times op-ed piece about his unsuccessful efforts to learn French as an adult and the consolation he derived from an unexpected quarter. He had taken a cognitive assessment test and “scored below average for my age group in nearly all of the categories”; now:
After a year of struggling with the language, I retook the cognitive assessment, and the results shocked me. My scores had skyrocketed, placing me above average in seven of 10 categories, and average in the other three. My verbal memory score leapt from the bottom half to the 88th — the 88th! — percentile and my visual memory test shot from the bottom 5th percentile to the 50th. Studying a language had been like drinking from a mental fountain of youth.
He says “researchers … hypothesized that language study should prove beneficial for older adults, noting that the cognitive tasks involved — including working memory, inductive reasoning, sound discrimination and task switching — map closely to the areas of the brain that are most associated with declines due to aging.” Plausible, and certainly comforting to those of us who are both aging and learning languages, but probably overblown. Still, an enjoyable read.
3) David Nash’s post “What flows from ngaka-rna : how naming books spread a Dieri word” at Endangered Languages and Cultures examines how “the Dieri (Diyari) intransitive verb ngaka-rna ‘flow (of water), blow (of wind)’” got confusingly written, misunderstood, and picked up as a popular toponym:
The reference to flowing or running water has clearly appealed to many agencies when they were selecting a name, because ‘Akuna’ or ‘Akoonah’ has been applied to over forty suburban streets, avenues, drives, closes, courts, and a rural lane. [...]
In short, in modern Australian usage as a ‘euphonious’ name Akuna or Akoonah, the word ngakarna has been anonymised from its linguistic and geographic origins. It has further been dislocated from its part of speech and authentic pronunciation (beyond the demands of English loan phonology). All that remains is some connection to flowing water (and even that has been lost where it has been glossed as ‘to follow’), and this now esoteric attribute is appreciated now only by the few who have informed themselves of it.
Thanks for the link, Yoram!