Tag Archives: News

Wampanoag film


A new documentary has been made about the resurrection of the Wampanoag language which has a few screenings coming up next month in the US. DVD’s are also available and details of both can be found here.

The story begins in 1994 when Jessie Little Doe, an intrepid, thirty-something Wampanoag social worker, began having recurring dreams: familiar-looking people from another time addressing her in an incomprehensible language. Jessie was perplexed and a little annoyed– why couldn’t they speak English? Later, she realized they were speaking Wampanoag, a language no one had used for more than a century. These events

sent her and members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanaog communities on an odyssey that would uncover hundreds of documents written in their language, lead Jessie to a Masters in Linguistics at MIT, and result in something that had never been done before – bringing a language alive again in an American Indian community after many generations with no Native speakers.

WE STILL LIVE HERE: As Nutayunean clip

Although I haven’t seen the film it sounds to be very much in the same vein as “the linguists” which came out in 2008. The Linguists follows two field linguists as they travel to document and help promote the rescue of near-extinct languages.

Documenting and reviving languages is an important thing to do as it increases our understanding of language. Every time a language dies we lose data which can inform us on the interactions between cognitive constraints and culture. A language dies every 14 days. Bearing that in mind, here’s a few links if you’re interested in this stuff:

SAIVUS (Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States): http://www.saivus.org/

Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project: http://wlrp.org/

Enduring voices: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/enduring-voices/

And a whole bunch of other links here: http://www.saivus.org/saivuslinks.html


Intelligence: Darwin vs. Wallace

It’s Charles Darwin’s birthday today! He’s 202. So in celebration I’ve written a post on the still ongoing controversy which the theory of evolution by natural selection caused and is causing, specifically with regards to the emergence of human intelligence.

Alfred Russel Wallace is widely seen as the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. While Darwin had been formulating his theory from as early as the late 1830s, he kept quite about it for more than twenty years while he amassed evidence to support it. In 1858 Alfred Russell Wallace, a naturalist of the same time, sent Darwin a letter outlining for him a theory of evolution which very closely mirrored Darwin’s own. The pair co-presented their theory to the Linnaean Society in 1858 but due to Darwin’s long time amassing evidence and refining his ideas, it was his book, On The Origin of Species, which was published in 1859 and set Darwin’s name firmly in the history books as the discoverer of natural selection.

While Wallace’s part in the discovery of natural selection is far from undocumented or unknown, it is largely for presenting ‘the same ideas’ as Darwin for which he is known and what is rarely discussed in the differences in their ideas. In this post I will briefly discuss a new(ish) paper by Steven Pinker on the evolution of human intelligence and some the differences between the thinking of Darwin and Wallace on the subject.

Darwin, unsurprisingly, asserted that the abstract nature of human intelligence can be fully explained by natural selection. In opposition to this Wallace claimed that it was of no use to ancestral humans and therefore could only be explained by intelligent design:

“Natural selection could only have endowed savage man with a brain a few degrees superior to that of an ape, whereas he actually possesses one very little inferior to that of a philosopher.”(Wallace, 1870:343)

Unsurprisingly most scientists these days do not agree with Wallace on either the point that the human brain could not be the result of natural selection or that as a result of this problem it must have been a product of design by a higher being. It would be both dismissive and dull to leave the discussion at that however, which is where Pinker comes in. Despite Wallace’s argument probably coming to the wrong conclusion he does bring up some very interesting questions which need answering, namely that of; “why do humans have the ability to pursue abstract intellectual feats such as science, mathematics, philosophy, and law, given that opportunities to exercise these talents did not exist in the foraging lifestyle in which humans evolved and would not have parlayed themselves into advantages in survival and reproduction even if they did?” (Pinker, 2010:8993)

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Project Nim

How cool is this? They’ve made a movie about Nim Chimpsky called Project Nim!

By the same guys who made Man on Wire, it’s currently been shown at the Sundance Festival.

Nim was  raised and nurtured like a human child in order to see to what extent apes could acquire human language.


Following Nim’s extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about his true nature – and indeed our own – is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling.



Mapping Linguistic Phylogeny to Politics

Note: Most of the content in this post is refuted wonderfully in the comment section by one of the original authors of the paper. I highly recommend reading the comments, if you’re going to read this at all – that’s where the real meat lies. I’m keeping this post up, finally, because it’s good to make mistakes and learn from them. -Richard


I had posted this already on the Edinburgh Language Society blog. I’ve edited it a bit for this blog. I should also state that this is my inaugural post on Replicated Typo; thanks to Wintz’ invitation, I’ll be posting here every now and again. It’s good to be here. Thanks for reading – and thanks for pointing out errors, problems, corrections, and commenting, if you do. Research blogging is relatively new to me, and I relish this unexpected chance to hone my skills and learn from my mistakes. (Who am I, anyway?) But without further ado:


In a recent article covered in NatureNews in Societes Evolve in StepsTom Currie of UCL, and others, like Russell Gray of Auckland, use quantitative analysis of the Polynesian language group to plot socioanthropological movement and power hierarchies in Polynesia. This is based off of previous work, available here, which I saw presented at the Language as an Evolutionary Systemconference last July. The article claims that the means of change for political complexity can be determined using linguistic evidence in Polynesia, along with various migration theories and archaeological evidence.

I have my doubts. The talk that was given by Russell Gray suggested that there were still various theories about the migratory patterns of the Polynesians – in particular, where they started from. What his work did was to use massive supercomputers to narrow down all of the possibilities, by using lexicons and charting their similarities. The most probable were then recorded, and their statistical probability indicated what was probably the course of action. This, however, is where the ability for guessing ends. Remember, this is massive quantificational statistics. If one has a 70% probability chance of one language being the root of another, that isn’t to say that that language is the root, much less that the organisation of one determines the organisation of another. But statistics are normally unassailable – I only bring up this disclaimer because there isn’t always clear mapping between language usage and migration.

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Language – An Embarrassing Conundrum for the Evolutionist?

Hello! This is my first post on the blog and whilst I didn’t want it to be an angry rant after I found this youtube video there seemed little could have been done to avoid it.

This is a video by a creationist named “ppsimmons” who writes on the front page of his youtube channel that he “apologizes for not knowing enough to scientifically refute the evidence for creation nor for being clever enough to “scientifically” support the theory of evolution.” And yet he feels to be enough of an authority to make videos refuting evolution using ‘science’.

I know I shouldn’t let this annoy me as much as it obviously has, I know that there will always be creationists out there and I know that these creationists will never listen to anything I have to say. However, in this case, I’ve decided to respond mostly to set straight the interpretation of Robert Berwick’s words used in this video.

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What we're not talking about

Without trying to sound too sensationalist: ScienceBlogs is seeing a mass exodus of writers. The main reason revolves around Seed Media, the parent company of ScienceBlogs, selling blog space to advertisers. As MarkCC, of Good Math, Bad Math, notes:

Seed has, in its corporate wisdom, decided to let Pepsico buy its way into a blog on ScienceBlogs. Pepsi writes SMG a nice check, and suddenly their content gets mixed in to the ScienceBlog RSS feeds, the ScienceBlog feed to Google News, etc., exactly the way that my blog posts do.

This is not acceptable.

For now, I’m suspending my blog for a few days. If Seed decides to back out of this spectacular stupidity, then I’ll start posting here again. If not, then I’ll go looking for a new home for GM/BM. The money that I’ve made from the ads that Seed has sold has been nice – but it’s not worth my integrity.

If Blogs here are for sale, then I’m gone.

The blog in question is Food Frontiers. What’s it all about? Well, as the opening article itself states:

On behalf of the team here at ScienceBlogs, I’d like to welcome you to Food Frontiers, a new project presented by PepsiCo.

As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.

Is it just me, or does that paragraph leave a sickly taste in your mouth? Maybe I’m just a synaesthete for blatantly corporate PR gimmicks. There are, of course, many arguments to be had about the role of advertising on blogs — it needs to generate money, after all. Still, whether you care or not about the ethics of the situation, I think ScienceBlogs made a very bad move not to consult their writers before going ahead with this.

N.B. If you’re worried about who has left and, more importantly, where they’ve gone, then Skulls in the Stars is keeping track of the situation: The Sciencebloggosphere is a changing. Of the blogs I regularly read, only one of them has made the move: Neuron Culture. The other blog I read, Laelaps, is still undecided as to where he’s going to take up permanent residence. You can, however, follow his twitter feed: http://twitter.com/laelaps.

Some links #1

Having now returned, I feel a long list of links is needed to kick start things:

Right, that’s all I’ve got time for at the moment. Laptop battery is dying and my bladder is urging me towards the toilet.

BBC is impartial, apparently?

…Or so the news story goes:

BBC director general Mark Thompson said that if the corporation transmitted the appeal it would be “running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in its wider coverage of the story”.

It always amuses me how the BBC retains a sense of commitment to impartiality when it continually fails to adhere to these standards on an almost daily basis. A greater irony is that through their reluctance to broadcast the Gaza Appeal, the BBC inadvertently drew the attention of Tony Benn, who decided to tell everyone the charity’s address live on BBC News (scroll down article to see the video). So now I guess the BBC’s just left with its principles…

To donate, visit: http://www.dec.org.uk (see BBC, it’s not that hard!)