Daniel Tammet was born in London. His mother spoke English and he grew up in an English-speaking environment. Yet to his ears the English language was an alien language. Words and sentences were a puzzle the young boy could not figure out. Daniel was an autistic savant. He was a self-confessed misfit in a world of words. He was also a mathematical genius. Daniel felt, thought, and dreamed in a private language of numbers.
When you listen to someone speaking a language you don’t understand, can you pick up any meaning? Most people can, because a lot of body language is universal, and up to 90% of all communication is nonverbal. Most of spoken language is not universal though, and there are very few words, which are the same across all languages. Modern linguists are beginning to study these universal words now. Image by: qthomasbower License: (CC BY 2.0)
Reuben is a gifted soccer player and fearless goalie. He was playing for an elite youth soccer team in Atlanta, Georgia when the unfortunate accident happened. He was kicked in the head by an opponent and went into shock. He stopped breathing multiple times and came in and out of consciousness on the soccer field. His coach said, “I thought I might lose him…”
Imagine the loneliness of speaking a language that only you can understand. Researchers have been studying a whale, who communicates in a language not recognizable by other whales. This whale has spent over two decades looking for a friend who will understand him.
If you ever thought that you were too old to learn a language or some other skill, you probably never heard the remarkable story of Kimani Maruge. Some people say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Kimani first entered elementary school when he was 84-years-old. In Kenya, where Kimani resided, elementary school wasn’t available to all. Parents had to pay school fees for the privilege of enrolling their children. While the tuition might seem modest to a lot of us today, they put school out of reach for a lot of families in Kenya, including the Maruges.
Birds aren’t usually the first animal that people think about when they think about smart animals. In English, calling someone birdbrained means that they are stupid. And saying something is ‘for the birds’ means that it’s trivial or worthless. However, these expressions couldn’t be more off base. Some birds, particularly crows, can be amazingly smart. In fact, their problem-solving abilities are as good as those of a seven-year-old child.
Has anyone ever told you, you could stand to lose some weight? Or maybe people have told you you’re as thin as a rail. Either way, it might not just be other people judging you on your looks. Prairie dogs have a complex language, and they are not only talking about people, but also calling them fat, skinny, tall, or short.