Random Samples

Science  18 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5960, pp. 1597
  1. Kaltxì. Ngaru Lu Fpom Srak?*

      CREDIT: WETA
      CREDIT: PAUL FROMMER

      He never became the astronomer he dreamed of being as a child, but Paul Frommer, a linguist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, still got to work on other planets: He's the creator of Na'vi, the language spoken by the indigo aliens in James Cameron's Avatar. Na'vi is being hailed as the new Klingon, even before the film's 18 December release.

      The language's phonology—its overall sound—was inspired by Cameron, who had already developed a 30-word vocabulary. Frommer modified it by adding and excluding specific sounds and sound combinations to make Na'vi seem both self-consistent and unfamiliar. “For example, English has the sounds ‘f’ and ‘ing,’ but it has no ‘fng,’” Frommer says. “Na'vi does.” He then added rules that specify how sounds are affected by their position in a word or phrase. The next step was morphology: word-building. The Na'vi roots for “much/great” and “understand,” for example, are combined to mean “wise.” Finally, Frommer developed a syntax of phrases and sentences.

      One of the toughest challenges was to make sure Na'vi sounded alien to non–English speakers. “Every sound in Na'vi is found in some human language,” he says, but the particular combinations are, “to the best of my knowledge, unique.” Na'vi lacks a word for “science.” “They would probably express the idea as ‘the study of the physical world,’ tìftia kifkeyä,” Frommer explains.

      • * Greetings. Are you well?

    1. Creationism at Italian Science Agency

        Italy's premier science funding agency, the National Research Council (CNR), is getting unwelcome attention for helping to fund and promote a creationist book compiled by the agency's vice president.

        Evolutionism: the decline of an hypothesis was assembled by Roberto de Mattei, a historian of Christianity at the European University of Rome, from proceedings of a February meeting he organized at CNR, at which several scientists and philosophers explained why evolution is unscientific. The book, published last month, includes claims that conventional dating methods are wrong, that fossil strata resulted from the Deluge, and that dinosaurs died 40,000 years ago.

        The book states that CNR contributed money for its publication (€9000, according to the newspaper La Repubblica). CNR President Luciano Maiani has acknowledged that CNR contributed to expenses but said the agency has not endorsed the book. In an e-mail to Science, however, he said, “I'd like to stress the fact that intellectual research is an open enterprise as well as my [opposition to] any form of censorship.”

        “Here we are not talking about the freedom of expression,” counters Ferdinando Boero, a zoologist at the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy. “If you send a scientific paper stating that the Earth is flat, no scientific journal will ever publish it.” Physicist Nicola Cabibbo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, calls it ironic that “while the Church has devoted many conferences to the topic [of evolution] this year, the vice president of CNR organized conferences in favor of creationism.”

      1. Macro Microorganisms

          CREDIT: BILAL HAQ

          Nature has a richer imagination than most sculptors, as this new park in China attests. The Foraminifera Sculpture Park in Guangzhou Province officially opened this month and is dedicated to large sculptures of these single-cell marine organisms. Marine geologist Bilal Haq of the National Science Foundation got the idea of a sculpture park a decade ago after seeing palm-sized models of foraminifera in the lab of marine biologist Zheng Shouyi at the Institute of Oceanology in Qingdao, China. Zheng persuaded local authorities to pursue the idea. The 114 sculptures were carved out of marble, granite, and sandstone.

        1. Science for the Fair Sex

            The New York Academy of Sciences is hosting a “Girls Night Out” series that will feature women scientists speaking on topics “close to women (and the people who love them).” The kickoff talk next month will be by anthropologist Helen Fisher on “Lust, Romance and Attachment.” Next comes a talk on nutrition and diet, followed by one on “our intimate connections to trees.” And finally “Survival of the Prettiest: Evolution, Beauty, and Human Happiness.”

            Guess girls are interested in science only if you can find a link to food, love, or makeup.

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