Domo arigato, Dr. Roboto: Researchers prove rats can't understand Japanese backwards. Can you?
debaron at uiuc.edu
Sat Oct 6 18:57:37 UTC 2007
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Domo arigato, Dr. Roboto: Researchers prove rats can't understand
Japanese backwards. Can you?
The 2007 Ig Nobel prize in linguistics has been awarded to three
researchers who successfully demonstrated that rats can’t distinguish
between Japanese and Dutch sentences played backwards.
The Ig Nobel prizes, co-sponsored by the Annals of Improbable
Research, are awarded each year for real research shortly before the
actual Nobel Prize winners are announced. While this is the first
time that a prize has been awarded in linguistics, two earlier prizes
in literature have been given for language-related research. John
Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, won in 2001
for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences
between the plural and the possessive. And Daniel Oppenheimer, of
Princeton, won in 2006 for his report, “Consequences of Erudite
Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using
Long Words Needlessly.”
A write-up of this year’s winning research on rat foreign language
backwards sentence recognition appeared in 2005 in the Journal of
Experimental Psychology. Drs. J. M. Toro, J. B. Trobalon, and N.
Sebastian-Galles, cognitive neuroscientists at the Parc Cientific de
Barcelona, trained a group of 64 Long-Evans rats to press a lever and
receive food when they heard Dutch and Japanese sentences that they
had never heard before (remember, these were Spanish-speaking rats).
Researchers then played the sentences backwards to see how that
affected the rats’ comprehension. They concluded that sixty rats had
no idea what was going on (P < .05), while four rats “failed to
finish the experiment because of low lever-pressing rates.”
Read the rest of this post about cutting-edge linguistic research at
the Web of Language
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
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