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