April 23, 2014

What's the Point?

On Language: Episode #8

The gesture of pointing is something we all do without much thought. We point to ourselves, at other people, at objects, or in the general direction of where we want to go - it's a seemingly straightforward communication tool that even small children use on a regular basis. Yet sometimes the act of pointing is not so simple. As Richard Meier, chair of the linguistics department at the University of Texas - Austin, explains, this is especially true for some children with an autism spectrum disorder. In this week's podcast, Meier introduces us to the complicated relationship between words and gestures in American Sign Language, and explains how this line of research has shed light on one aspect of autism.

To learn more about the ongoing work of two of Dr. Meier's students, mentioned near the end of the podcast, see this article from Al Jazeera America.

April 16, 2014

Language Seen, Not Heard

On Language: Episode #7

For people who have grown up being able to hear, it can be easy to equate language with speech - the audible conversations that make up so much of human day-to-day communication. However, for some 70 million people around the world, these types of conversations happen in silence. Stephanie Berk, a postdoctoral research associate in linguistics and neurology, studies the linguistics of sign language and has worked with children who - because their parents were at first unaware of their child's deafness - began learning their first language later in life. In collaboration with the Washington University School of Medicine, she is now beginning to look into the human brain to see what American Sign Language (ASL) can reveal about how humans learn and process any language, whether spoken or seen.

April 4, 2014

Behind the Mask, Part 2: The Evolution of a Genre

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #15

Last week, we defined the superhero. However, superheroes have evolved greatly over the last seventy years. The Adam West Batman of the 1960s now only vaguely resembles Christian Bale's Batman of The Dark Knight, to say nothing of the rise of the anti-hero in Alan Moore's classic, Watchmen. How do we reconcile these heroes and their many iterations? Dr. Peter Coogan, the founder of the Institute for Comics Studies and lecturer within American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, returns to trace the evolution of the superhero genre. He explains how superheroes are both a reflection and product of America's shifting modern mythology.

April 2, 2014

Behind the Mask, Part 1: Superheroes and Supervillains

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #14

It's hard to recall a movie season in recent memory that hasn't been marked with at least one superhero blockbuster, so we're taking a closer look at these stories and heroes. In the first episode of this two part series, we consider what makes someone a superhero. Is it simply a question of superpowers? According to Dr. Peter Coogan, the founder of the Institute for Comics Studies and lecturer within American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, that's certainly part of the equation. He will layout the criteria caped crusaders must meet and the hallmarks of the wider superhero genre.

March 26, 2014

The Foreign Language Question

On Language: Episode #7

What do the history of physics, the international women's movement, microfinance, the modern philosophical novel, and the fight against the spread of AIDS in Africa all have in common? According to Joe Loewenstein, professor of English and director of the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities, in order to study any of these topics and countless others, students are well-advised to begin the slow and rewarding process of mastering a foreign language. The important question becomes, which languages open which doors of opportunity?


March 19, 2014

The Music of Conversation

On Language: Episode #6

Whether or not you can play the drums or keep your body in rhythm out on the dance floor, if you're reading this sentence, you're participating in the unheard music of language. In his research at Washington University in St. Louis, linguist Brett Hyde, assistant professor of philosophy, delves into the rhythms behind everyday conversation. By studying the accent patterns of languages around the world, Hyde's goal is to discover the underlying principles that organize these patterns. Feel free to clap along as you hear about the connections between music, poetry, and the distinct beats of every sentence ever spoken.

March 12, 2014

Jane Eyre and the Art of Translation

On Language: Episode #5

When you think of the novel Jane Eyre, you might think of its author, Charlotte Brontë, or perhaps certain elements of the plot, like Jane's time at Lowood School or her tumultuous relationship with Mr. Rochester. However, in a recent project, Lynne Tatlock is exploring how the original novel is only the beginning of the Jane Eyre story. Like many other 19th century texts, this novel was repeatedly translated into other languages and adapted into new works. Tatlock, a professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and chair of the Comparative Literature program at Washington University in St. Louis, seeks to uncover the German portion of that international journey. In addition to sharing thoughts on this new line of research, Tatlock discusses 19th century German romance novels in translation and reveals some of the challenges and insights that she has personally encountered as a translator.