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  • "Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names." - Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993

    「只有語言能保護我們免受無名之物的恐懼。」- 托妮.莫里森,1993 年諾貝爾文學演講。

  • The average 20 year old knows between 27,000 and 52,000 different words.

    一般一個 20 歲的人認識 27,000 至 52,000 個不同的字。

  • By age 60, that number averages between 35,000 and 56,000.

    到 60 歲時,該數目一般落在 35,000 至 56,000 之間。

  • Spoken out loud, most of these words last less than a second.


  • So with every word, the brain has a quick decision to make: which of those thousands of options matches the signal?


  • About 98% of the time, the brain chooses the correct word.

    大約 98% 的時間,大腦會選出正確的字。

  • But how?


  • Speech comprehension is different from reading comprehension, but it's similar to sign language comprehensionthough spoken word recognition has been studied more than sign language.

    言語理解不同於閱讀理解,但類似於手語理解 ── 雖然人們對口語辨識的研究比手語多。

  • The key to our ability to understand speech is the brain's role as a parallel processor, meaning that it can do multiple different things at the same time.


  • Most theories assume that each word we know is represented by a separate processing unit that has just one job: to assess the likelihood of incoming speech matching that particular word.


  • In the context of the brain, the processing unit that represents a word is likely a pattern of firing activity across a group of neurons in the brain's cortex.

    對大腦來說,代表單字的處理單元很可能是大腦皮層中 一組神經元的激發活動。

  • When we hear the beginning of a word, several thousand such units may become active, because with just the beginning of a word, there are many possible matches.


  • Then, as the word goes on, more and more units register that some vital piece of information is missing and lose activity.


  • Possibly well before the end of the word, just one firing pattern remains active, corresponding to one word.


  • This is called the "recognition point."


  • In the process of honing in on one word, the active units suppress the activity of others, saving vital milliseconds.


  • Most people can comprehend up to about 8 syllables per second.

    大多數的人每秒最多可以理解 8 個音節。

  • Yet, the goal is not only to recognize the word, but also to access its stored meaning.


  • The brain accesses many possible meanings at the same time, before the word has been fully identified.


  • We know this from studies which show that even upon hearing a word fragmentlike "cap"— listeners will start to register multiple possible meanings, like captain or capital, before the full word emerges.

    我們從研究中了解到, 即使只是聽到字的片段 — 譬如 「首」— 聽者也會開始找多種可能的字義,比如「首領」或「首都」, 在整個字唸完前就會這麼做。

  • This suggests that every time we hear a word, there's a brief explosion of meanings in our minds, and by the recognition point the brain has settled on one interpretation.

    這間接說明著我們每次聽到一個字時,腦中會很快地迸出許多字義,到達識別點時, 大腦已選中一個字義。

  • The recognition process moves more rapidly with a sentence that gives us context than in a random string of words.

    如果提供有上下文的句子,而不是隨機一串單字時, 識別過程的速度會加快。

  • Context also helps guide us towards the intended meaning of words with multiple interpretations, like "bat," or "crane," or in cases of homophones like "no" or "know."

    上下文也會引導我們了解具有多種解釋的字的正確意思,例如「蝙蝠 (球棒)」 或「吊車 (鶴)」,或在同音詞的情況下, 例如 "no (不)" 或是 "know (知道)"。

  • For multilingual people, the language they are listening to is another cue, used to eliminate potential words that don't match the language context.

    對於會多種語言的人而言, 他們正在聽的語言是另一種提示,能夠幫他們排除不符合這個語言可能會出現的單字。

  • So, what about adding completely new words to this system?


  • Even as adults, we may come across a new word every few days.


  • But if every word is represented as a fine-tuned pattern of activity distributed over many neurons, how do we prevent new words from overwriting old ones?


  • We think that to avoid this problem, new words are initially stored in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, well away from the main store of words in the cortex, so they don't share neurons with others words.


  • Then, over multiple nights of sleep, the new words gradually transfer over and interweave with old ones.

    經由多個夜晚的睡眠,新的單字會逐漸轉移過來, 和舊的單字交織在一起。

  • Researchers think this gradual acquisition process helps avoid disrupting existing words.

    研究者認為, 這種緩慢獲得新字的過程有助於避免干擾現有的單字。

  • So in the daytime, unconscious activity generates explosions of meaning as we chat away.


  • At night, we rest, but our brains are busy integrating new knowledge into the word network.


  • When we wake up, this process ensures that we're ready for the ever-changing world of language.


  • At TED, we're passionate about the human capacity to share ideas.

    在 TED,我們對人們分享知識的能力充滿熱情。

  • That's why the TED-Ed team created a program to help you mine your life experience for ideas and stories worth sharing, and then craft those experiences into compelling talks.

    因此,TED-Ed 團隊創造了一個計畫來協助你挖掘你的生活經驗,以獲取值得分享的想法和故事,然後將這些經驗轉化為引人入勝的演講。

  • It's called TED Master Class, and you can learn more and download the app at

    這個計畫叫作 TED Master Class,你可以在 下載程式並了解更多。

"Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names." - Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993

「只有語言能保護我們免受無名之物的恐懼。」- 托妮.莫里森,1993 年諾貝爾文學演講。

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