Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that “speakers” rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side, researchers found.

Whistling requires adjustments in frequency, pitch and melody, all tasks handled by the brain’s right hemisphere, said Onur Gunturkun, a neuroscientist at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany and an author of the study. He and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Whistled Turkish is used to communicate over long distances in the mountainous terrain of northeastern Turkey. When listening to fragments of spoken Turkish, the subjects more often heard the sounds played to the right ear. That is because the brain’s left hemisphere receives input from the body’s right side and processes speech, Gunturkun said.

But the subjects picked up whistled Turkish equally well in either ear. “The pattern of 50-50 tells us that indeed the physical format of a language alters the way the brain processes it,” Gunturkun said.

The whistled language may be used by 10,000 to 50,000 people today, said Gunturkun, a native speaker of Turkish.


Weather report on cave walls

Writings on the walls of a cave in China record the effects of droughts during the past 500 years, researchers found.

The inscriptions are on the walls of Dayu Cave in the Qinling Mountains of central China. They describe the effects of seven droughts between 1520 and 1920.

One inscription, dated 1528, reads, “Drought occurred in the seventh year of the Emperor Jiajing period, Ming dynasty. Gui Jiang and Sishan Jiang came to Da’an town to acknowledge the Dragon Lake inside in Dayu Cave.”

Another, from 1891, reads, “On May 24th, 17th year of the Emperor Guangxu period, Qing dynasty, the local mayor, Huaizong Zhu, led more than 200 people into the cave to get water. A fortuneteller named Zhenrong Ran prayed for rain during the ceremony.” The inscriptions are described in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers also analyzed stalagmites in Dayu Cave, which are formed by dripping water and contain rings that record their growth, as do trees.

After analyzing the stable isotopes of oxygen, carbon and concentrations of uranium and other elements inside the stalagmites, the researchers found higher oxygen and carbon isotope ratios in years with lower rainfall.

“We now have a direct link between what people experienced at the time and our geochemical reference,” said Sebastian Breitenbach, a climate scientist at the University of Cambridge and one of the paper’s co-authors.

He and his colleagues used the data from the stalagmites to construct a model of precipitation in more recent times. It correlated with a drought in the 1990s and predicted another in the late 2030s.

New York Times