Language

Ingeborg Hornkjøl poses with a piece of wood inscribed with Nordic runes. 

Cool Finds

Archaeologists Discover—and Start to Decode—Rare Medieval Runes

One of the newly unearthed objects, an inscribed bone, is the first of its kind found in Oslo in decades

Dogs may even be able to suss out which sounds are words and which are just nonsense.

Good News

Dogs Can Tell the Difference Between Human Languages

Canines in the study could differentiate between Spanish, Hungarian and nonsense words

The term “Crusade” has always been an anachronism—a way of looking back at complex, often disconnected movements with a wide array of motivations, membership, tactics and results and organizing them into a single coherent theology or identity. Pictured: A 19th-century painting of the 1177 Battle of Montgisard by Charles-Philippe Larivière

The Many Myths of the Term 'Crusader'

Conceptions of the medieval Crusades tend to lump disparate movements together, ignoring the complexity and diversity of these military campaigns

Researchers are hoping to decipher the communications of sperm whales.

Could We Chat With Whales?

An ambitious project is attempting to interpret sperm whale clicks with artificial intelligence, then talk back to them

The Tuxtla statuette, discovered in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1902, now resides in the National Museum of Natural History.

What Secrets Does This 1,800-Year-Old Carved Stone Hold?

The Tuxtla Statuette illuminates an endangered Latin American culture

Grizzly bears in coastal British Columbia are more closely linked to Indigenous groups than previously realized.

Grizzly Bear Territories in Canada Match Maps of Indigenous Language Families

DNA analysis shows a distinct relationship between three distinct groups of grizzlies and Indigenous populations with different languages

Mother and pup of the bat species Saccopteryx bilineata. Similar to human infants, pups begin babbling at a young age as they develop language skills.

Baby Bats Babble—Just Like Human Infants

Both species make similar sounds as they develop language skills at an early age

A man in Laruns, southwestern France, whistling as a form of speech. Like others in the Canary Islands and elsewhere, local people have learned to whistle their language to communicate across long distances. Linguists are studying whistled speech to help understand which sound elements are essential to comprehension.

More Than 80 Cultures Still Speak in Whistles

Dozens of traditional cultures use a whistled form of their native language for long-distance communication. You could, too.

The Ifesowapo dùndún ensemble performing in Igbo Ora, southwest Nigeria

How Does the West African Talking Drum Accurately Mimic Human Speech?

A new study explores how the dùndún replicates tones and patterns of the Yorùbá language

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, which famously depicts William the Conqueror's victory over the so-called Anglo-Saxons

The Many Myths of the Term 'Anglo-Saxon'

Two medieval scholars tackle the misuse of a phrase that was rarely used by its supposed namesakes

Historians have long thought that Slavic peoples did not develop an alphabet until the ninth century—but the new findings suggest otherwise.

Cool Finds

Runes Found on Seventh-Century Cow Bone Could Change Slavic History

The Germanic writing suggests Slavs used an alphabet more than 200 years earlier than previously believed

Peter Mark Roget compiled his influential thesaurus late in life.

Before He Wrote a Thesaurus, Roget Had to Escape Napoleon's Dragnet

At the dawn of the 19th century, the young Brit got caught in an international crisis while touring Europe

The letters used in the ancient alphabet bear a distinct resemblance to Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Cool Finds

Pottery Shard May Be 'Missing Link' in the Alphabet's Development

An inscription found on a 3,500-year-old vessel suggests that a standardized script arrived in Canaan earlier than previously thought

Portrait of Dante Alighieri, Florence and the allegory of the Divine Comedy, 1465, detail.

Virtual Travel

Follow Dante's Footsteps Through Italy

For the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death, visit his birthplace, churches and tomb

Christina Koch (left) poses for a portrait with Jessica Meir while preparing for their first spacewalk together.

Smithsonian Voices

Gender-Inclusive Language Puts an End to the Era of 'Manned' Spaceflight

It is time to honor six decades of women's contributions to spaceflight, says the Air and Space Museum, with unbiased verbs like 'crewed' or 'piloted'

Sophia Kianni is the founder of Climate Cardinals, a member of the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, and hosts her own podcast.

Smithsonian Voices

Meet Sophia Kianni, the Young Climate Change Changemaker

The founder of Climate Cardinals assembled a team of global volunteers to breakdown language barriers by translating climate science and research

The dictionary documents the “core” vocabulary of science fiction that turns up again and again, both in stories and in the real world.

A Dictionary of Science Fiction Runs From Afrofuturism to Zero-G

The long-running project found a new online home, one that showcases the literary genre’s outsized impact on popular culture

A new study finds most conversations don't end when we want them to.

New Research

Most People Don't Know When to Stop Talking, According to Science

A new study finds folks are pretty bad at guessing whether to wrap up a chat or keep talking

Hieroglyphs line the walls in a shrine
to the goddess Hathor at Serabit el-Khadim.

Who Invented the Alphabet?

New scholarship points to a paradox of historic scope: Our writing system was devised by people who couldn’t read

Father Reginald Foster celebrating his birthday in 2019

Father Reginald Foster Used Latin to Bring History Into the Present

Who speaks Latin these days? A surprisingly large number of people, thanks to the late friar, who died on Christmas Day at 81

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