Language and linguistics


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Essay/
Philosophy of language
The ethics of speech acts

It’s one thing to say something. It’s quite another for a person to do (or not do) something because of what you’ve said

Guy Longworth

Glisten, glint, glimmer and glow. Photo by Albert Ceolan/DEA/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of language
The way words mean

Words stand for things in the world, and they stand apart from it. Perhaps meaning is more sunken into words than we realise?

Alexander Stern

Photo by Harry Gruyaert/Magnum

Essay/
Stories and literature
Sweetness and strangeness

In our image-saturated, over-sped world, we are losing the imaginative power to create and find meaning through metaphor

Heather Altfeld & Rebecca Diggs

Nurunuru? Reiko Takahashi, 78, prepares seaweed that she collects from the sea at the Tomari Port on 12 March 2013 in Minamisanriku, Japan. Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Getty

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Words as feelings

A special class of vivid, textural words defies linguistic theory: could ‘ideophones’ unlock the secrets of humans’ first utterances?

David Robson

Photo by Brooke Anderson Photography/Getty

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Who decides what words mean

Bound by rules, yet constantly changing, language might be the ultimate self-regulating system, with nobody in charge

Lane Greene

Are we missing something? The French author Georges Perec, whose novel La disparition (1969), containing not a single instance of the letter ‘e’, was translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void (1995). Photo by Guy Le Querrec/Magnum

Essay/
Stories and literature
L’art de la traduction

What is the task of the translator – to be a servant to the source or to create a new work of illuminated meaning?

Mark Polizzotti

The Harbinger of Autumn (1922) by Paul Klee, watercolour and graphite. Photo courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Essay/
Language and linguistics
The say of the land

Is language produced by the mind? Romantic theory has it otherwise: words emerge from the cosmos, expressing its soul

Mark Vernon

A clay impression of a cylinder seal from Nippur, Iraq. Akkadian civilisation, 2330-2150 BCE. Photo By DEA/De Agostini/Getty

Essay/
The ancient world
The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

Michael Erard

A Sicilian peasant explains to an American officer which way the Germans had gone. August 1943 in Troina, Italy. Photo by Robert Capa, courtesy International Center of Photography/Magnum

Essay/
Cognition and intelligence
Gesture talks

Across vast cultural divides people can understand one another through gesture. Does that make it a universal language?

Kensy Cooperrider

Scientists unveil a 1.8 million-year-old 'Dmanisi' skull discovered in the Dmanisi caves in modern-day Georgia. Photo by Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images

Essay/
Human evolution
Did Homo erectus speak?

Early hominins who sailed across oceans left indirect evidence that they might have been the first to use language

Daniel Everett