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NPR

On NPR’s Short Wave, climate correspondent Lauren Sommer reports on MIT researchers using artificial intelligence to decode the secret language of sperm whales. Prof. Daniela Rus says, “it really turned out that sperm whale communication was indeed not random or simplistic but rather structured in a very complex, combinatorial manner.”

Smithsonian Magazine

MIT researchers have used advancements in machine learning and computing to help decode whale vocalizations, reports Sarah Kuta of Smithsonian Magazine. “If researchers knew what sperm whales were saying, they might be able to come up with more targeted approaches to protecting them,” Kuta explains. “In addition, drawing parallels between whales and humans via language might help engage the broader public in conservation efforts.”

Reuters

A new analysis of years of vocalizations by sperm whales in the eastern Caribbean has provided a fuller understanding of how whales communicate using codas, reports Will Dunham of Reuters. Graduate student Pratyusha Sharma explained that: "The research shows that the expressivity of sperm whale calls is much larger than previously thought."

New Scientist

New Scientist reporter Clare Wilson writes that a new analysis by MIT researchers of thousands of exchanges made by east Caribbean sperm whales demonstrates a communication system more advanced than previously thought. “It’s really extraordinary to see the possibility of another species on this planet having the capacity for communication,” says Prof. Daniela Rus.

TechCrunch

Researchers from MIT and elsewhere have uncovered a phonetic alphabet used by sperm whales, which provides “key breakthroughs in our understanding of cetacean communication,” reports Brain Heater for TechCrunch. “This phonetic alphabet makes it possible to systematically explain the observed variability in the coda structure,” says Prof. Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL. “We believe that it’s possible that this is the first instance outside of human language where a communication provides an example of the linguistic concept of duality of patterning. That refers to a set of individually meaningless elements that can be combined to form larger meaningful units, sort of like combining syllables into words.”

Associated Press

Associated Press reporter Maria Cheng spotlights a new study by MIT researchers that identifies a “phonetic alphabet” used by whales when communicating. “It doesn’t appear that they have a fixed set of codas,” says graduate student Pratyusha Sharma. “That gives the whales access to a much larger communication system.” 

NPR

Using machine learning, MIT researchers have discovered that sperm whales use “a bigger lexicon of sound patterns” that indicates a far more complex communication style than previously thought, reports Lauren Sommers for NPR. “Our results show there is much more complexity than previously believed and this is challenging the current state of the art or state of beliefs about the animal world," says Prof. Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL. 

New York Times

MIT researchers have discovered that sperm whales use a “much richer set of sounds than previously known, which they call a ‘sperm whale phonetic alphabet,’” reports Carl Zimmer for The New York Times. “The researchers identified 156 different codas, each with distinct combinations of tempo, rhythm, rubato and ornamentation,” Zimmer explains. “This variation is strikingly similar to the way humans combine movements in our lips and tongue to produce a set of phonetic sounds.”

Reuters

Will Dunham at Reuters writes about new research from Prof. Evelina Fedorenko and others, which found that polyglots “who spoke between five and 54 languages” used less brain activity when processing their native language. "We think this is because when you process a language that you know well, you can engage the full suite of linguistic operations - the operations that the language system in your brain supports," says Fedorenko.

TechCrunch

MIT researchers have used machine learning to uncover the different kinds of sentences that most likely to activate the brain’s key language processing centers, reports Kyle Wiggers and Devin Coldewey for TechCrunch. The model, “was able to predict for novel sentences whether they would be taxing on human cognition or not,” they explain.

Newsweek

Researchers from MIT and Harvard have found that an adult’s ability to “parse the early attempts of children to talk may also help the children learn how to speak properly faster,” reports Jess Thomson for Newsweek. “These adult listening abilities might help children communicate very early and highlight that speech is a good way to share information with others," says postdoctoral associate Stephan Meylan. "That said, there is a lot of diversity in how adults and children interact across the world, both within and across different social and cultural contexts. This means that there are very likely many pathways to understanding language."

Forbes

Prof. Jacob Andreas explored the concept of language guided program synthesis at CSAIL’s Imagination in Action event, reports research affiliate John Werner for Forbes. “Language is a tool,” said Andreas during his talk. “Not just for training models, but actually interpreting them and sometimes improving them directly, again, in domains, not just involving languages (or) inputs, but also these kinds of visual domains as well.”

Wired

Prof. Ev Fedorenko has been studying the differences in “the neural architecture of speakers who speak languages with different properties,” reports Sofia Quaglia for Wired. “Her studies suggest that the core features of language systems in the brain seem similar across the board,” explains Quaglia.

Scientific American

MIT researchers have found that lawyers prefer, and better understand, simplified texts, rather than legalese, reports Jesse Greenspan for Scientific American. “The researchers presented 105 U.S. attorneys with contract excerpts written in both “legalese” and plain English and tested their comprehension and recall for each,” explains Greenspan. “While the attorneys outperformed laypeople overall, they still found the legalese contracts harder to grasp than those written in plain English.”

Gizmodo

Researchers at MIT have found that lawyers “have an easier time remembering legal documents written in simple English over those filled with so-called legalese,” reports Ed Cara for Gizmodo. “On average, for instance, lawyers scored 45% on a test that asked them to recall documents written in legalese, compared to the average 38% scored by nonlawyers,” explains Cara. “But the lawyers’ score also increased to over 50% when they were given the simplified version.”