The languages we speak and how we speak them are an integral part of our identity, shaping not only how we see the world but also how people see us. In January, Horizon puts language under the spotlight, kicking off the month with a look at Europe’s minority languages and how to preserve them. We also delve into the social and cognitive aspects of language use, finding out how accents arise and how they affect people’s perception of the speaker, and discovering how ageing affects linguistic capacity in bilingual people – and vice versa. We also speak to researchers looking into the language impairment dyslexia and potential options for early diagnosis.
Most children are able to learn language almost effortlessly. But for those with communication disorders such as dyslexia, mastering their native tongue can be a challenge. Researchers are exploring how links with noise, language and motion could help diagnose problems earlier and pave the way for better treatment.
Europe’s minority languages have been squeezed by nation-building, urbanisation and the ‘lingua francas’ of the internet, according to Professor Anneli Sarhimaa, specialist in Northern European and Baltic languages and cultures at the University of Mainz, Germany. But one lesson she has learned from researching the fate of the Finnic language Karelian, spoken in Finland and north-western Russia, is that digital media can also help revitalise them.
This month, Horizon explores the global challenge of biodiversity loss. Many experts believe we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, where human-caused factors such as land use and pollution are causing a decline in biodiversity – something that threatens the future of our own species. We speak to British ecologist Professor Georgina Mace about how bad the situation is and what we can do about it. We explore marine ecosystems, where species relocation outpaces that of terrestrial populations, and examine how we can help these environments adapt. We also look into the link between food insecurity and biodiversity degradation, and find out what’s in store for bees – our pollinators. Finally, we investigate the services nature provides for people – from cleaning our water to acting as a carbon sink – and ask whether putting a value on natural capital could help save it.
Fifty years after humans first set foot on the moon, Earth’s only permanent natural satellite is back in the news with China’s successful landing on the moon’s as-yet-unexplored far side. This month, Horizon looks at how Europe is contributing to moon research. We hear from the European Space Agency’s director of human and robotic exploration about their plans to send a robot and then humans to the lunar surface in the 2020s, and speak to the scientists trying to fill the holes in our understanding of how the moon was formed. We also hear how we could solve the puzzle of where water on Earth originated by analysing volatile substances from the moon, and take a look at the methods and facilities being developed to protect precious extra-terrestrial samples from human contamination.
Nearly 100 years ago scientists developed a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Today, there are 10 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths from the disease every year. Increasingly, these cases are becoming difficult to treat as the bug that causes the disease can be resistant to antibiotics. However, several new TB vaccines are under development and there is growing optimism that a new vaccine will emerge, says Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, UK. This could save millions of lives, she said, but more work is needed to reassure the general public that vaccines are safe and effective.
Forests have a special magic for many of us. Steeped in folklore and fantasy, they are places for enchantments, mythical creatures and outlaws. But if they are to survive into the future, they may also need a helping hand from science.
Tuberculosis is the most common cause of death from an infectious disease.
Computer modelling will also help optimise management techniques.
Entrepreneur Nicklas Bergman on the European Innovation Council.