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.


  1. I’m always puzzled by the notion that Americans don’t gesticulate. I was born on these shores, and yet I am an inveterate and even public gesticulator (and masticator too, but never mind that). I’m told that when I get enthusiastic, I gesture chop-chop-chop, mostly from the elbows, as if I were slashing my points to ribbons with twin cleavers.

  2. OT:
    I suppose that the saga of Croat/Serbian will be reignited now all EU documents have to be translated into the language. That’s a few more translators and more linguistic controversy.

  3. I’m always puzzled by the notion that Americans don’t gesticulate.
    I don’t think the idea is that Americans don’t gesticulate, period, but that they (on average, not you specifically) gesticulate noticeably less than, say, Italians, which surely you don’t dispute.

  4. Trond Engen says

    I liked that deleted spam comment aboyt gesticulation getting out of hand.

  5. Trond Engen says

    Also, I’ve never seen any evidence for Italian gesticulation, only handwaving.

  6. I am trying and failing to come up with a definition of gesticulation that does not include handwaving.

  7. He means gestures like giving the finger. I’ve seen them genuflecting, popes and whatnot. Don’t know if that counts.

  8. Mmm, perhaps, but I suspect that depends on the ethnic origins of the Americans in question. I am told that although native-born Australians of Greek and Serbian ancestry sound like any other Aussies, their gestures remain those of the Old Country, and I suspect that is true here too.

  9. @languagehat: Maybe I’m missing a deeper joke on your part, but if I’m not, then I think you’re missing Trond Engen’s joke. Consider:
    > Also, I’ve never seen any evidence for […], only handwaving.

  10. Ah, the heat is making me slow-witted. Thanks for the explanation, and my apologies to Trond for missing his excellent joke!

  11. Trond Engen says

    Hat: I couldn’t find a way to explain without revealing that I was missing the joke if there was one in your reply. So thanks, Ran.
    I once genuflected before a bishop. It was a kneejerk reaction.

  12. marie-lucie says

    Isn’t a kneejerk the opposite of genuflecting?

  13. Trond Engen says

    I could claim that a kneejerk reaction is the opposite of the opposite. But I don’t think it has legs to stand on.

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