A couple of recent stories of interest from the NY Times (thanks, Bonnie!)
“From the Mouths of Babes and Birds,” by Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist:
Researchers who focus on infant language and those who specialize in birdsong have teamed up in a new study suggesting that learning the transitions between syllables — from “da” to “do” and “do” to “da” — is the crucial bottleneck between babbling and speaking.
“We’ve discovered a previously unidentified component of vocal development,” said the lead author, Dina Lipkind, a psychology researcher at Hunter College in Manhattan. “What we’re showing is that babbling is not only to learn sounds, but also to learn transitions between sounds.”
Mark Liberman has more at the Log. (Not language-related, but if you’re as fascinated by how memory works and doesn’t work as I am, you’ll want to watch Crist’s twenty-minute Studio 360 Live talk on the subject.)
“When Italians Chat, Hands and Fingers Do the Talking,” by Rachel Donadio; nothing deep, but it’s got some good anecdotes:
Sometimes gesturing can get out of hand. Last year, Italy’s highest court ruled that a man who inadvertently struck an 80-year-old woman while gesticulating in a piazza in the southern region Puglia was liable for civil damages. “The public street isn’t a living room,” the judges ruled, saying, “The habit of accompanying a conversation with gestures, while certainly licit, becomes illicit” in some contexts.
In 2008, Umberto Bossi, the colorful founder of the conservative Northern League, raised his middle finger during the singing of Italy’s national anthem. But prosecutors in Venice determined that the gesture, while obscene and the cause of widespread outrage, was not a crime.