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ASL Polar Express Shows Off Developing Language Skills

Rejoice! Shaylee, the daughter of ASL Nook’s Sheena McFeely and Manny Johnson, is back with a new ASL Christmas story. We've been watching her storytelling skills develop for a few years now. When she was 4, we cooed over her version of The Night Before Christmas. The next year she made our hearts grow three sizes with How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Then last year we laughed and shouted out with glee at the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Though ASL is in many ways different from spoken language, when it comes to the timeline of natural childhood language acquisition, it is almost exactly the same. (Shaylee's parents are Deaf signers, so her environment is an ideal one for this process to unfold.) At 4, we saw her get comfortable with grammatical concepts like topic/comment structure. At 5, she expertly navigated the expression of character perspective. At 6, her understanding of narrator voice was solid. Now, with this performance of The Polar Express, we can see an impressive mastery of ever more subtle and complex aspects of storytelling, like prosody.

Prosody refers to rhythm and voice intonation in spoken language. For sign, there is no vocal intonation, but there are prosodic features like blinks, eye gaze, body shifts, and the tension and speed of signs. Because there is so much vocabulary in common among Christmas stories, we can take a look at prosody development by comparing the same signs from Shaylee now with three years ago.

For example, note the difference between "Santa gets on his sleigh" then and now. The first has a cute, babyish "tone of voice." The second has a mature, narrator tone.

The articulation of the sign itself on the hands is crisper, neater, and, with regard to narration, more intentional. The same can be seen in the change to "very old" in the last few years.

Thanks again, Shaylee! For sharing your holiday spirit with us, and for showing us the marvel of language acquisition in action.

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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