Creating a Language

One of the greatest mysteries about the development of Homo sapiens concerns the acquisition of what is arguably our most important skill: language.  It is regarded by many scientists as the single most critical faculty separating us from the other animals.  It is the attribute that allowed knowledge of discoveries such as tool-making to spread between peoples and across generations, to audiences far larger than those who might have seen something with their own eyes.  But how did our ancestors learn it?  Many questions in science can be answered, or at least investigated, by means of controlled experiments.  Answering the question of how a language is created on that basis would seem to be nearly impossible.

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Travelogue of a 17th Century Survivor

In the summer of 1627, corsairs from the Barbary Coast sailed about 3,000 miles to Iceland, killed or captured nearly 400 people, and took their captives back to North Africa to sell as slaves.  Ólafur Egilsson, a 65-year old Icelandic Lutheran pastor, was taken in the raid, along with his wife and children.  The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson is his first-person account of how he survived the raid and its aftermath, written after his return to Iceland in 1628.

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Looking for a Good Book?

The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is underway at the Park Avenue Armory this weekend.  Among the offerings is a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), printed in Nuremberg in 1543, the year of the author’s death.

According to The New York Times, the book, which is one of about a dozen copies that are in private hands, is being offered at a price of $2 million.  If that happens to be out of your price range, it can also be found in the usual places, and even in free pdf downloads.  But the alternatives won’t look as good, or feel as good in your hands. Continue reading “Looking for a Good Book?”

Statues without Controversy

The New York Talking Statues Project is now live, in all five boroughs, and all you need to enjoy it is a cell phone and a few minutes.  Go to one of the 35 statues on the website’s map, scan the QR code you will find next to the statue, and the statue will call you and tell you his/her story.

You can hear famous Americans such as Washington, Lincoln, Tubman and Douglass; Continue reading “Statues without Controversy”

e pluribus unum

You may have never seen a silver dollar like the one in the picture above. They are no longer in circulation, and exist in the domain of coin collectors and dealers. But that coin bears a Latin phrase that was the unofficial motto of the United States from 1795 to 1956: “e pluribus unum”, which translates as “out of many, one”. Adopted at the beginning of the republic, the motto has both symbolic and literal meaning. Continue reading “e pluribus unum”

Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Media Disruption

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Audio Publishers Association Convention in New York on the last day of May.  Between seeing old friends, making new ones, hearing about industry developments and listening to some wonderful audiobook narrators read, it was easy to see why the event was sold out this year. (If you missed it, register early next year!) Continue reading “Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Media Disruption”

Synthesizing Your Voice

A recent article in the “Science and technology” section of The Economist magazine discussed advances in the effort to synthesize the human voice. There has long been a small cottage industry dedicated to this work, which used to be called voice banking. It was primarily designed to benefit people who were at risk of losing their ability to speak, either due to illness or to impending surgery. Continue reading “Synthesizing Your Voice”