Sim­i­lect ver­sions of English likely to evolve as the most spo­ken lan­guage

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - BILL & RICH SONES PH.D.

Q. On an un­named moun­tain and un­ex­plored re­gion of one of the green­est coun­tries on earth, the sci­en­tists ar­rived by he­li­copter, feel­ing like they were “the first humans ever to pass the night there.” Why were they there?

A. Sit­u­ated on Suri­name’s Grens­ge­berte Moun­tains on the border with Brazil, the 18 group mem­bers in­cluded or­nithol­o­gists, botanists, “fish squeez­ers and snake grab­bers,” all in search of new species, says science and na­ture writer Richard Con­niff in “Smith­so­nian” mag­a­zine. As part of Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional, their goal was “to iden­tify and pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity world­wide,” sup­ported by a team tasked to trans­fer some 6,600 pounds of equip­ment by water or land to the re­mote site.

Thus far, humans have iden­ti­fied about 2 mil­lion of the 10-100 mil­lion species await­ing dis­cov­ery and nam­ing. The process is painfully slow, re­quir­ing a spe­cial­ized tax­onomist to com­pare a promis­ing species with al­ready es­tab­lished ones and, if ap­proved, to af­fix the new species with a com­monly ac­cepted sci­en­tific name.

All told, the ex­pe­di­tion came back with some 60 species new to science. Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional will use this data to help in­spire Suri­name’s Na­tional Assem­bly to ear­mark 72,000 square kilo­me­ters of rain­for­est as a na­ture pre­serve, pos­si­bly a step to­ward mak­ing species dis­cov­ery a pow­er­ful na­tion brand for Suri­name.

Q. If we all spoke the same lan­guage one day, it just might be a va­ri­ety of a sim­i­lect. Ex­plain, please.

A. First, a few facts: Man­darin Chi­nese is spo­ken by the great­est num­ber of peo­ple, over a bil­lion; next is Span­ish, and to­gether the two lan­guages are spo­ken in some 30 coun­tries, says Hal Hod­son in “New Sci­en­tist” mag­a­zine. Rank­ing third is English, found in at least 100 coun­tries; it is the first lan­guage for some 335 mil­lion peo­ple, and the sec­ond lan­guage for an­other 555 mil­lion. Also, it dom­i­nates in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, busi­ness and science.

Now to the ques­tion. As Anna Mau­ra­nen of the Univer­sity of Helsinki ex­plains, mil­lions of sec­ond-lan­guage English speak­ers have cre­ated “sim­i­lects” that in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of their na­tive lan­guage with English: Chi­nese-English, Brazil­ian-English, Nige­rian-English.

Lan­guages like Ger­man and Es­to­nian will re­main the lan­guage of choice within their re­spec­tive bor­ders, and the lan­guage di­rectly de­scended from Shake­spearean English will still be fa­vored by Amer­i­cans and Brits. Plus, “English is likely to be the lan­guage of choice for in­ter­na­tional dis­course, sim­ply be­cause it is al­ready in­stalled.” “Mau­ra­nen en­vi­sions a fu­ture in which English sim­i­lects be­gin to blend over na­tional bor­ders…, and com­mon goals will drive the evo­lu­tion of the lin­gua franca, re­gard­less of whether we call it English or not.”

Q. How did a pope help make chick­ens fat­ter? What about rab­bits?

A. Around the mid-10th cen­tury, the Catholic Church re­quired its fol­low­ers to ab­stain from eat­ing meat from four-legged an­i­mals for about 130 days a year, re­ports “Science” mag­a­zine. Prob­a­bly not co­in­ci­den­tally, the num­ber of chicken bones at Euro­pean ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites about the same time abruptly dou­bled. Peo­ple be­gan se­lec­tively breed­ing plump, year-round egg-lay­ers that likely had a gene vari­ant stim­u­lat­ing me­tab­o­lism and re­pro­duc­tion. When re­searchers se­quenced chicken DNA from 12 such sites dat­ing from 280 B.C.E. to the 18th cen­tury, they found that few chick­ens car­ried this gene un­til about 1000 years ago.

As for rab­bits, in 600, Pope Gregory I de­clared fe­tal rab­bits to be aquatic, mean­ing they were fish and thus could be eaten dur­ing Lent, says Tina Hes­man Saey in “Science News” mag­a­zine. Monas­ter­ies in south­ern France took up rab­bit breed­ing, and rab­bits quickly be­came do­mes­ti­cated.


Bill is a jour­nal­ist, Rich holds a doc­tor­ate in physics. To­gether the brothers bring you “Strange But True.” Send your ques­tions to strangetrue@com­

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