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Language and spatial conceptions of time

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Credit: epSos.de

In most languages time is talked about in spatial terms, with the future presented as being 'in front' of the person experiencing it. For example, in English we speak about 'looking forward' to doing something.

A recent study in Psychology looked at the conceptualisation of time in Moroccan speakers of Arabic. Although in linguistic terms, the future is 'ahead' in Arabic just as it is in English, Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues found that Moroccan Arabic speakers went against this convention in their hand gestures, with implications for how we understand space-time mappings. (1)

Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues also mention Aymara, a language from the Andean region of western Bolivia. In Aymara, the relation between time and space does not seem to work in the same way. To quote a different article:

In Aymara, the basic word for FRONT (nayra, "eye/front/sight") is also a basic meaning PAST, and the basic word for BACK (qhipa, "back/behind") is a basic expression for FUTURE meaning. [...] Is it in fact an instance of the same mappings as we have seen in other languages, "reversed" in some way, or are there quite different metaphoric mappings involved? How would we know? (2)

How do you think that the differences between English and Aymara would be of interest to researchers in Linguistics and Psychology? Can you think of any research questions or hypotheses? How would you design an experiment to test your ideas?

You may be interested to look at:

(1) This British Psychology research digest post about the research by Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues.

(2) This difficult but interesting article about Aymara: Rafael Nunez and Eve Sweetser, 'With the Future Behind Them: Convergent Evidence from Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construsals of Time' in Cognitive Science 30 (2006), pp1-49

If you would like to keep yourself informed about research topics in Psychology, do keep an eye on the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog.

Date posted: 

Thursday 21 August 2014

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Young Geographer of the Year Competition

Glacial outwash river

A glacial river. Credit: Mike Beauregard

The annual Young Geographer of the Year Competition is run by the Royal Geographical Society in conjunction with Geographical Magazine. There are four categories for different age groups including 14-16 (Years 10 and 11) and 16-18 (Years 12 and 13), as well as younger pupils.

This year's question is: How can Geography help you?

  • Students in Years 10 and 11 are asked to produce an annotated diagram or map to answer the question
  • Students in Years 12 and 13 are asked for a 1,500 word essay, which can include illustrations, maps or graphs.

The deadline for entries is Friday 24 October 2014.

If you might like to enter, please read the full information on the Royal Geographical Society website.
 

Date posted: 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

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Animal Farm

Animal Farm book cover

Credit: Juan Pablo Ortiz Arechiga (cropped)

Have you read George Orwell's Animal Farm (first published in England in 1945)? It is just under 100 pages and is widely available in local libraries - why not read the book (or listen to it) without reading anything about it, and see what you make of it. Can you briefly jot down your impressions of what is important in the book? If you are able to get to a local library, you could then do some research about what other people have written on the themes in it.

  • George Orwell, Animal Farm (Penguin, 1996)
     

Date posted: 

Sunday 10 August 2014

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STEP Mathematics

Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences

Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences

Students who apply to Cambridge for Mathematics or for Computer Science with the 50% Maths option are normally asked to sit STEP Mathematics exams.

Don't be discouraged if STEP material looks very difficult when you first look at it - the style is very different from A level, IB etc. STEP exams normally require plenty of preparation and practice in order to do well, and there are lots of online resources to help you with this. Your work on STEP will help you a lot with the transition to the kinds of mathematical problem-solving you will meet at Cambridge. Once you get into it, we hope that you will enjoy working on the material!

Here are some resources to help you with your work on STEP:

Date posted: 

Saturday 9 August 2014

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Thames Tideway Tunnel

London City Airport and the ThamesLondon City Airport and the Thames. Credit: pencefn

According to King’s Engineer Mark Ainslie, ‘engineers are people who apply Maths and Physics to solve problems … in a creative way.’

So try applying your own Maths and Physics to a real life engineering problem: how to tackle the problem of overflows from London's Victorian sewers.  Designed for up to 4 million people 150 years ago, the sewers are not big enough to serve 8 million Londoners today, causing 55 million tonnes of raw sewage to wash into the tidal Thames every year.

Thames Water's proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel, running for 25 kilometres, at a depth of up to 65 metres below the river.  Tunnelworks is an online resource put together by Thames Water, in which you are asked to apply your Mathematics and Physics to the project.

Taking place for the first time throughout September 2014, Totally Thames is an exciting new, month-long celebration of the river across its 42 London miles:

Date posted: 

Friday 8 August 2014

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CREST Awards: for project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

Making a pin-hole cameraMaking a pin-hole camera. Credit: Tess Watson

The British Science Association supports, assesses, and awards students undertaking project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You can register and work towards one of their CREST Awards either through your school / college or independently. You could build a pin-hold camera, design a bespoke fitness regime and diet for an athlete, or investigate the effect of natural and chemical additives in bread.

Look at the British Science Association website to find:

Good luck and enjoy!

Date posted: 

Tuesday 5 August 2014

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'The words on the page': practical criticism

TextClose reading. Credit: Radek Szuban

Practical criticism is a skill required in all three years of the Cambridge English degree. Developed by Cambridge literary critic I. A. Richards in the 1920s, the exercise is designed to make you focus on 'the words on the page.'  You are given an unseen text and asked to respond to its form and meaning.

This year, Cambridge students hit the headlines when they were asked to analyse Morrissey's Autobiography (2013) and Andre Letoit's (Koos Kombuis) 'Tipp-Ex Sonate' (1985) (a poem with no words, only punctuation) in their practical criticism papers.

Why not try your hand at practical criticism yourself? The Faculty of English's Virtual Classroom provides a good starting point:

You can also read I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism (1929).

Date posted: 

Friday 1 August 2014

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Siegfried Sassoon's war diaries published in the Cambridge Digital Library

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Credit: Pere Ubu

The Cambridge University Library holds the papers of its former student and First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Now, for the first time, Sassoon's journals are freely available online as part of the Cambridge Digital Library.

Amidst the daily minutiae of life in the trenches, Sassoon recorded:

  • the first day of the Somme, 'a sunlit picture of Hell,' on July 1916
  • the Battle of Arras, during which he was 'fully expecting to get killed,' but was instead shot in the shoulder by a sniper, causing a dramatic deterioration in his handwriting from 15 - 16 April 1917
  • draft and fair copies of his 'Soldier's Declaration' against the conduct of the war, written and issued in June-July 1917
  • an early version of his poem 'The Dug-Out,' with an additional, excised verse, written in July 1918 and published in Picture-Show (1919)

The Siegfried Sasoon diaries had previously been edited by Rupert Hart-Davies and published in the 1980s.  So how does seeing the original manuscript versions change our perceptions of Sassoon's life and poetry? Does seeing the mud and candlewax on their pages add to a historian's understanding of Sassoon's experience in the trenches? How useful is either textual criticism (the effort to establish a text as nearly as possible to its original form) or genetic criticism (the effort to trace and understand the process of writing a text) to a literary scholar?

You can read Sassoon's poetry and browse related primary documents in the University of Oxford's First World War Poetry Digital Archive Sassoon Collection.

Date posted: 

Thursday 31 July 2014

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Women in Engineering

According to the Institute of Engineering and Technology's latest skills report

"the number of women in engineering remains very low at 6%, which has not significantly changed in all the years this survey has been carried out."

Why are there so few female engineers? Zoe Conway reported from the Crossrail 2 project on why engineering remains a male-dominated industry for Radio 4's Today programme this morning.

The WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) offers lots of online resources to young women thinking about studying and pursuing a career in Engineering, including:

The Women's Engineering Society was founded in 1919 by women engineers in the First World World War who wished to continue their work in peacetime. They support prospective women engineers in gaining the Advanced Leaders Award for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Here in Cambridge, the Department of Engineering holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, in recognition of its commitment to promoting and supporting the careers of women in engineering. Ann Dowling, Head of the Department, offers the following advice to young women engineers:

  1. try always to respond positively to opportunites that come your way;
  2. don't wait for the 'perfect time' before applying for things - sometimes you just have to have a go;
  3. find a field of resarch that really interests you and has scope to expand in the future.

Date posted: 

Thursday 31 July 2014

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Biologising the Social Sciences

Human skullSpoiling for a fight? Credit: driki

Academics have increasingly turned to evolutionary explanations for the human condition, variously arguing that:

You can find out more about evolutionary psychology and explore more of its theories in Evolutionary Psychology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal showcasing work across the human sciences.

But are there limits to the explanatory power of evolution? David Canter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Huddersfield, thinks so. He made a trenchant case against biologising the social sciences in David Canter, ‘Challenging neuroscience and evolutionary explanations of social and psychological processes,’ Contemporary Social Science, 7 (2012), 92-115.

You can listen to David Canter debate the issues with Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, on Radio 4's Inside Science programme (the item begins at 18 minutes).

How far would you take evolutionary explanations of human behaviour?

Date posted: 

Tuesday 29 July 2014

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