language | KNKX

language

Southern resident orca whales, seen frolicking in 2008 less than 200 yards from shore near the light house at Lime Kiln Point State Park.   The one breaching is Canuck L-7, in the foreground is Faith L-57. Neither is still living.
Jeanne Hyde

Author’s note: Sometimes the best stories are not planned out or deeply researched in advance, but rather the product of simply listening and letting a narrative take you where it wants to go. This one came about because I had always wanted to learn more about how orcas communicate: the extent to which we know they have some sort of language. I asked around and learned the person to contact is Jeanne Hyde, a wonderful character who has devoted more than a decade of her life to constantly listening to killer whales. Jeanne’s passion for telling the stories of these orcas is infectious. And her collection of sounds provides unique perspective, especially on the tragic grief ritual of mother orca Tahlequah, who caught the world’s attention in 2018. You’ve gotta listen! (This story originally aired March 29.)

Part of our ongoing series exploring how the U.S. can educate the nearly 5 million students who are learning English.

Brains, brains, brains. One thing we've learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings.

When it comes to sentence structure, Rocky, a sea lion, was a stickler.

"It really mattered to her, what's going to be the direct and indirect object," says Kathy Streeter, an animal trainer.

For Sierra, it isn't the grammar that interests her. It's the vocalizations. This California sea lion loves experimenting with her vocal range, and she hates being interrupted.

When you praise a dog, it's listening not just to the words you say but also how you say them.

That might not be huge news to dog owners. But now scientists have explored this phenomenon by using an imaging machine to peek inside the brains of 13 dogs as they listened to their trainer's voice.

Computer programs often reflect the biases of their very human creators. That's been well established.

The question now is: How can we fix that problem?

TheGiantVermin / Flickr

A team led by Professor Christine Moon of Pacific Lutheran University, tested newborn babies in Tacoma and Stockholm, Sweden. Moon said they played recordings of a distinctly American English vowel sound and a Swedish one, and tested the babies responses by measuring the one thing a day-old baby is really good at: sucking on a pacifier. Their sucking patterns reveal that babies show a familiarity with the vowel sounds of their mother tongue even at birth, suggesting they’ve been listening carefully in utero.