VOCABULARY Sunspots are dark cool patches that appear on the surface of the sun and last for about a week. • Many researchers thought the sunspot cycle had hit bottom in 2008 when the sun was blank 73% of the time.
COMMMENTS See my earlier post on this topic. It looks like I may have been wrong about the environmental impact. According to France24: "... it is designed to be gentle on the environment and aims for zero carbon output". My apologies to Sir Richard.
Scientific American reports on a new study which shows that the skin could help us hear by 'feeling' sounds.
The act of hearing is a group effort for the human body's organs, involving the ears, the eyes and also, according to the results of a new study, the skin.
In 1976 scientists discovered the importance of the eyes to our sense of hearing by demonstrating that the eyes could fool the ears in a peculiar phenomenon named the McGurk effect. When participants watched a video in which a person was saying "ga" but the audio was playing "ba," people thought they heard a completely different sound—"da." Now, by mixing audio with the tactile sense of airflow, researchers have found that our perception of certain sounds relies, in part, on being able to feel these sounds. The study was published November 26 in Nature. Full article >>
A fascinating piece of research. I wonder if it could have any implications for language learning.
The Times reports on the results of a new study which has found that "newborn babies mimic the intonation of their native tongue when they cry, indicating that they begin to pick up the first elements of language in the womb."
The study, which is published today in the journal Current Biology, recorded and analysed the cries of 60 healthy babies: 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 from German-speaking families. The recordings were made in maternity wards when the babies were 3 to 5 days old. Analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the babies’ “cry melodies”, which appeared to accord with their mother tongue.
French newborns tended to cry with a rising melody contour, starting at a low pitch and ending on a high note, whereas German babies preferred a falling melody.
While the average volume of crying was the same, the French babies started more quietly and built up to a crescendo, while the German babies did the opposite. These patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, according the researchers. Full story >>
The Daily Express claims that a new pill could cut the risk of strokes by up to a third. Full story >>
VOCABULARY 1. Pills are small solid round masses of medicine or vitamins that you swallow without chewing. The pill (with the definite article and sometimes a capital 'p') refers to the contraceptive pill. • Teenage girls on the pill forget to take it an average of three times per month. 2. If someone has a stroke, a blood vessel in their brain bursts or becomes blocked, which may kill them or make them unable to move one side of their body. • He had a minor stroke in 1987, which left him partly paralysed.
It is four decades since Neil Armstrong's small steps represented a giant leap for mankind. Ahead of the Apollo 11 mission's anniversary, a celebratory Nasa reveals newly-restored video of the historic landing. US correspondent Greg Milam reports.
This cartoon by Paul Thomas in The Daily Express refers to the news that scientists have developed an anti-obesity pill which could dramatically reduce weight.
In a laboratory, two scientists (who look like clones of each other) peer into a cage containing two mice (one mouse, two mice). One of the mice is wearing a dress and says to the other mouse: "These anti-obesity drugs work—I'd never have got into this dress two days ago!"
GRAMMAR NOTE "I'd" is a contraction of "I would". "I'd never have got" is an example of the third conditional, used to talk about an unreal or impossible situation in the past. For more on the third conditional, see here and here.
Primates can intuitively recognise some rules of grammar, according to a study of cotton-topped tamarin monkeys (Saguinus oedipus).
The findings do not mean primates can communicate using language, but they do suggest that some of the skills required to use language may be linked to very basic memory functions.
One grammatical structure that is found across many languages is affixation: the addition of syllables, either at the beginning or at the end of a word, to modify its meaning.
For instance, in English, the suffix "–ed" is added to verbs to make the past tense. In German, the same effect is achieved by adding the prefix "ge–" to the front of verb stems.
Ansgar Endress and colleagues at Harvard University thought that, because this structure is found in so many languages, it might be linked to basic memory functions that are independent of language. If they could prove this was true, it would suggest ways that children might be learning grammatical structures. Full story >>
Perhaps they could give some TOEIC tips to our students.
British scientists claim a first in medical history by using embryonic stem cells to create human sperm in a laboratory. Researchers at Newcastle University hope it will help infertile couples but it has sparked an ethical debate. Sky's Gerard Tubb reports.
COMMENTS The scientist (the man in the white lab coat) didn't sound very 'British'!
Scientists have created human sperm in the laboratory for the first time, reports The Independent. The sperm were created in a test tube from stem cells derived from a five-day-old male embryo. Full story >>
VOCABULARY 1. A scientist (sy-un-tist) is someone who has studied science and whose job is to teach or do research in science. The corresponding adjective is scientific. • Fishery scientists strongly criticized the report as severely lacking in scientific rigor. 2. A test tube is a small tube-shaped container made from glass and used in laboratory experiments. (A test-tube baby is a baby that develops from an egg that has been removed from the mother's body, fertilized, and then replaced in her womb in order that it can continue developing.)
3. A sperm is a cell which is produced in the sex organs of a male animal (and now in the laboratory!) and can enter a female animal's egg and fertilize it. The plural form is sperms or sperm.