Language, Culture, and Society

Language, our primary tool of thought and perception, is at the heart of who we are as individuals. Languages are constantly changing, sometimes into entirely new varieties of speech, leading to subtle differences in how we present ourselves to others. This revealing account brings together twelve leading specialists from the fields of linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology, to explore the fascinating relationship between language, culture, and social interaction. A range of major questions are discussed: How does language influence our perception of the world? How do new languages emerge? How do children learn to use language appropriately? What factors determine language choice in bi- and multilingual communities? How far does language contribute to the formation of our personalities? And finally, in what ways does language make us human? Language, Culture, and Society will be essential reading for all those interested in language and its crucial role in our social lives.

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The mystery of language evolution

Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, (1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; (2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; (3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes any time soon; (4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language’s origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses. We conclude by presenting some suggestions about possible paths forward.

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Evidence of early human innovation, pushing back evolutionary timeline

Anthropologists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and an international team of collaborators have discovered that early humans in East Africa had–by about 320,000 years ago–begun trading with distant groups, using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools than those of the Early Stone Age. These newly discovered activities approximately date to the oldest known fossil record of Homo sapiens and occur tens of thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown in eastern Africa. These behaviors, which are characteristic of humans who lived during the Middle Stone Age, replaced technologies and ways of life that had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years.

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Contemporary Cultural Theory: An Introduction

While white racism has global dimensions, it has an unshakeable lease on life in South African political organizations and its educational system. Donnarae MacCann and Yulisa Maddy here provide a thorough and provocative analysis of South African children’s literature during the key decade around Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Their research demonstrates that the literature of this period was derived from the same milieu — intellectual, educational, religious, political, and economic — that brought white supremacy to South Africa during colonial times. This volume is a signal contribution to the study of children’s literature and its relation to racism and social conditions.

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First Saharan Farming 10,000 Years Ago

By analysing a prehistoric site in the Libyan desert, a team of researchers from the universities of Huddersfield, Rome and Modena & Reggio Emilia has been able to establish that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. In addition to revelations about early agricultural practices, there could be a lesson for the future, if global warming leads to a necessity for alternative crops.
The importance of find came together through a well-established official collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia.

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Pierre Bourdieu – The Field of Cultural Production: : Essays on Art and Literature

During the last two decades, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has become a dominant force in cultural activity ranging from taste in music and art to choices in food and lifestyles. The Field of Cultural Production brings together Bourdieu’s major essays on art and literature and provides the first introduction to Bourdieu’s writings and theory of a cultural field that situates artistic works within the social conditions of their production, circulation, and consumption. Bourdieu develops a highly original approach to the study of literary and artistic works, addressing many of the key issues that have preoccupied literary art and cultural criticism in the last twentieth century: aesthetic value and canonicity, intertextuality, the institutional frameworks of cultural practice, the social role of intellectuals and artists, and structures of literary and artistic authority.

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Cave from East Africa shows early Cultural Innovations

An international, interdisciplinary group of scholars working along the East African coast have discovered a major cave site which records substantial activities of hunter-gatherers and later, Iron Age communities.

Detailed environmental research has demonstrated that human occupations occur in a persistent tropical forest-grassland ecotone, adding new information about the habitats exploited by our species, and indicating that populations sought refuge in a relatively stable environment.

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Humans Did Not Wipe Out the Neanderthals

Neanderthals went extinct in Europe about 40,000 years ago, giving them millennia to coexist with modern humans culturally and sexually, new findings suggest.

This research also suggests that modern humans did not cause Neanderthals to rapidly go extinct, as some researchers have previously suggested, scientists added.

Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans and lived in Europe and Asia. Recent findings suggest that Neanderthals were closely related enough to interbreed with ancestors of modern humans — about 1.5 to 2.1 percent of the DNA of anyone outside Africa is Neanderthal in origin.

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Neanderthal extinction

Neanderthal extinction began around 40,000 years ago in Europe after anatomically modern humans had reached the continent. This date, which is based on research published in Nature in 2014, is much earlier than previous estimates, and it was established through improved radiocarbon dating methods analyzing 40 sites from Spain to Russia. The survey did not include sites in Asia, where Neanderthals may have survived longer. In October 2015, studies suggest Neanderthals may have survived even longer, as recently as 24,000 years ago instead.

Hypotheses on the fate of the Neanderthals include violence from encroaching anatomically modern humans,[3] parasites and pathogens, competitive replacement, competitive exclusion, extinction by interbreeding with early modern human populations, and failure or inability to adapt to climate change. Interbreeding took place in western Asia about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, as evidenced by 1 to 4 percent of genomic material carried by non-African people living today.] It is unlikely that any one of these hypotheses is sufficient on its own; rather, multiple factors probably contributed to the demise of an already widely-dispersed population.

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Clay tablets from the cradle of civilisation provide new insight to the history of medicine

Ancient “doctors” mixed magic and medicine to heal patients.  Before the Greeks excelled in science and philosophy, the culture was blooming in Mesopotamia, located between the Euphrates River and the Tigris River in present-day Iraq. This region, known as the cradle of civilization, was the seat of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which lasted from around 900 to 612 BCE. Some historians consider the kingdom to be the first true empire in history and many Assyrian kings and cities are described in The Old Testament. A Danish Ph.D. student has now analyzed clay tablets from the Kingdom’s heyday, in which a man called Kisir-Ashur documents his education to become a doctor, and how he combined magical rituals with medical treatments.

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