Babbel On: May 2018 Language News Roundup

How language and color interact, the ongoing tensions in Catalan and more in this edition of Babbel On.
Babbel On: May 2018 Language News Roundup

The Language You Speak, The Colors You See

Two researchers from Lancaster University wrote an article for The Conversation about their research on the links between the language people speak and the way they perceive colors. They did research on Greek speakers, who have two words for the color blue: ghalazio for light blue, and ble for dark. Because of this, Greek speakers often see these two shades completely differently, like how English speakers will see “red” and “pink” separately, even though pink is technically just a shade of red. The researchers found that the longer Greek speakers spend in English-speaking countries, the more similarly they’ll perceive these two colors.

This work expands on other research that’s been done on colors and language before. Color happens to be a very hot topic to study for perception researchers because color perception can be more easily measured than other phenomena. One famous study in 2007 that also focused on dark and light blues (though that time in Russian) found some of the earliest evidence that language can, in fact, change how people “see” color.

But Be Cautious. Linguist John McWhorter (who we interviewed last month) is a skeptic of studies that purport to show how language affects the way people perceive reality, arguing that while the studies are fine, they’re often used by others who overstate the results to prove that speaking a different language creates a different reality.

Find Out More: We recently wrote about the question of whether language affects the way people see the world. There is little evidence so far that it does, but researchers like the ones at Lancaster University could be paving the way to major breakthroughs on human perception soon.

Catalan And The Continuing Language Identity Crisis

It’s been over six months since Catalonia held a referendum on whether to declare independence from Spain. Spain had declared the referendum illegal and forcefully pulled people from polling places on election day. And while the vote would likely have gone in favor of independence, Catalonia continues to be part of Spain. Recently, to cap a five-part series about identity called The ID Question, Padmaparna Ghosh wrote about the intersections of language and community, with Catalan in the spotlight. Here’s a brief timeline of Spain’s relationship with the Catalan language:

  • 1479: The Spanish-speaking Castille and the Catalan-speaking Aragon merge, and Spanish becomes the more prestigious of the two languages.
  • 1714: Spanish starts being enforced as the national language throughout Spain, including Catalan.
  • 1940: After a brief Catalan revival, Prime Minister Francisco Franco bans Catalan and all other regional languages.
  • 1975: Franco dies, and the Spanish government legalizes regional languages and promotes them by reintroducing them into schools and dubbing movies.
  • 2017: Catalonia holds the referendum.
  • 2018: Spain’s government suggests it might reintroduce Spanish into Catalonian schools, which riles up opposition to Spain in Catalonia even more.

For the past few decades, Catalan has existed as an important symbol for Catalonia. This isn’t rare, as language is often used as a sign of patriotism. That’s why colonists often force their own languages on the lands they are conquering, as it tends to dispirit the local populations. But in Catalonia, language plays an even more central role, with some arguing that Catalonia speaking Catalan rather than Spanish is, in itself, reason enough to separate from Spain.

Pronouns Could Be Used To Diagnose Depression

A paper published in Clinical Psychological Science claims to have found a link between language and depression, and Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, one of the researchers, wrote about it for The Conversation. By using computers to analyze online forums and the works of famous artists like Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain, the researchers found patterns that seem to correlate with people who are experiencing clinical depression. Beyond the most obvious result — people who are depressed use more negative adverbs and adjectives — two important observations came up:

  • People with depression use more “absolutist” words, which are words such as “always,” “none” and “forever,” rather than ones like “sometimes,” “most” or “maybe.”
  • The use of pronouns was one of the most useful results. People with depression used first-person pronouns (“I,” “me,” “myself”) more than second- or third-person (“you,” “she,” “we”). Other researchers even found this trait is more useful in identifying depression than the use of negative adverbs and adjectives.

Al-Mosaiwi wrote that the use of language analysis is outperforming therapists in its ability to diagnose depression. He’s cautious to note that not everyone who shares these traits is necessarily depressed, and this will not replace other methods of diagnosis.

Find Out More: For another look at the use of pronouns and what it reveals about people, you should check out “I, I, I. Him” from the podcast Invisibilia. In it, the hosts talk to people who are going through the grieving process and explore other research that shows people who use “I” pronouns the most have the hardest time moving on.

Babbel Bites

The Babbel staff’s favorite language articles from the last month.

  • Babbel talked to Travel Channel host and international foodie Andrew Zimmern about how to have authentic experiences abroad and how he learned “kitchen speak” in 30 languages.
  • Atlas Obscura wrote about the renewed interest in Solresol, a language created in the 19th century that’s based on the seven notes of music.
  • Two podcasts, The World in Words and Across Women’s Lives, came together to create “From ‘Mx.’ to ‘hen’: When ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ words aren’t enough,” a series that explores how language and gender interact in various parts of the world.
  • Babbel collaborated with Vice Media to learn how to “Date the World,” or at least date people from around the world. Our first stop: Mexico City.
  • The Verge wrote about Heaven’s Vault, a video game where you have to decipher an alien language. Sadly, the creator of the game admits it’s not exactly like real linguistic work.
  • National Geographic profiled Wikitongues and its quest to save languages that are disappearing.
  • The de Young Museum in San Francisco has a new exhibition on handheld fans. What does that have to do with language? Well, there’s the language of the fans, used by women to communicate discrete messages. Twirling a fan in your left hand can mean “we’re being watched,” while twirling it in the right means “I love another” (a polite way to rebuff a suitor).
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