Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Year In Review

We've been having some fun looking at Facebook Stories and seeing what the world has been talking about most this past year. Since Facebook is American, they've dedicated several sections to the past year in the U.S., including memes, songs, books, movies, events and almost everything in between. We're having a look at the most talked about things from several countries around the world.

Australia: One Direction

It seems the Aussies can't get enough of the English-Irish pop group. They've also been fond of reality TV, the London 2012 Olympics and the globally-famous mummy porn, 50 Shades of Grey.

Here's 9 shades...
you'll have to get the book for the rest!

Canada: The Hunger Games

The Canadians spent the year talking about The Hunger Games, the box-office smash featured in the Top 10 for most countries. They also enjoyed The Avengers and the TV series The Walking Dead and a few films and books that were also popular in Australia. Mitt Romney also made an appearance on their list.

France: François Hollande

Given that France could be said to have invented modern politics, it's no surprise that their new president, François Hollande, would feature at the top of the list. Sports were on the tip of everyone's tongues as Chelsea Football Club, FC Bayern Munchen and Swedish footballer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic all featured in the list.

Germany: BVB

BVB, or Borussia Dortmund was on most Germans' lips for 2012, as were FC Bayern Munich, Chelsea Football Club and Cristiano Ronaldo. Reality TV star Daniele Negroni was also being talked up by the Germans.

Europeans sure love their football!

Italy: Terremoto (Earthquake)

The earthquakes in northern Italy in May and June were the main talking points of the year for most Italians. There was widespread destruction across the affected areas, including 26 deaths. Technocrat Mario Monti came in second and the same football teams from the Champions' League final, Chelsea and Bayern Munich pop up too. Footballers Mario Balotelli and Gianluigi Buffon were popular as well.

Spain: Trabajo (Work)

Spain's year was dominated by the economic crisis. Trabajo, meaning "work" was the most talked about topic and huelga, meaning "strike" was second. The rest of the list mentions Rajoy (the current prime minister of Spain) and the crisis económica (economic crisis). The Spanish national football team, La Roja, the Eurocopa (Euro 2012), Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo all also feature.

United Kingdom: London 2012 Olympics

The Brits were banging on about their Olympics all year, and Usain Bolt was an often mentioned athlete. The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was also talked about, as was 50 Shades of Grey and box-office smash The Avengers.

Part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

United States: Barack Obama and the Presidential Election

There was plenty to talk about in the United States this year, but the top story was the seemingly never-ending presidential election. Barack Obama was the most talked about politician and public figure, and lucky for him all that buzz helped secure him a win. Like their northern neighbours, Americans became obsessed with The Hunger Games, as they devoured the books and headed to cinemas to see the first film. Instagram became a favourite tech tool that is no longer just used by hipsters, and the meme TBH (to be honest) was often seen at the end of opinionated posts. Americans also became fanatics of the band Fun., whose song We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe) was #1 in the charts for six weeks and was heard everywhere from Super Bowl commercials to being covered on the show Glee.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Easiest Languages To Learn

If you're hoping to learn another language and you're lazy, busy or just don't want to overexert yourself, we have a list of a few of the languages considered to be the easiest for speakers of English to learn.


Often rated as the easiest language for any English speaker, Dutch enjoys a lexicon with many similarities to English. These Germanic languages share a large number of cognates, and unlike the French, the Dutch haven't resisted the adoption of English words, which makes your job that much easier! They also share similar stress and intonation patterns as well as sound systems. Best of all, Dutch is said to have simple and consistent spelling rules, unlike our ridiculous language. Just think about the English words knife and through.


Some argue that Norwegian is much easier for English speakers to learn than other Germanic languages. It also has many lexical similarities. Its grammar is easier to learn, plus its word order is more similar to that of English than Dutch or German, for example. Norwegian is also full of words that are not quite the same, but with a bit of creative thought you can uncover their meaning. A great example is snikskytter. Try saying it out loud, and you might find that it sounds a bit like "sneakshooter"... and what is the English word for a person who shoots sneakily? An assassin. Fun, right?

Learning Norwegian will also give you an excuse
to visit Norway and see its beautiful fjords!


Since the Normans came to Britain and started throwing their words all over the place, English has taken on board many words of either Latin or French origin. The shared lexicon means that a good number of French words will already be familiar to English speakers. Especially if you like food.


Dutch's cousin in Africa is supposedly very easy for English speakers. Both Dutch and Afrikaans share a good number of similarities with English. In fact, the sentence "my pen was in my hand" is written exactly the same in Afrikaans and means exactly the same thing. It is, of course, pronounced differently.

There's no gender in Afrikaans either, so that makes it a little easier than Romance languages.


Fans of Rolf Harris will enjoy the "say what you see" approach to the orthography of Spanish. Rarely does a word not sound how it looks. If you learn how to say each letter, you can pretty much say every word you come across. It makes it very easy for understanding people when they speak Spanish as well, with the added bonus that you'll immediately be able to spell any word they say and jot it into a notebook to look up or use later.

Drinking sangria will make the learning process
much more enjoyable as well!

If you haven't worked it out, there's a pattern here. The more similar a language is to your native tongue (in this case English), the easier it is to learn. Stick with any language similar to your own and you're on for an easy ride. If English is your native tongue, your best bet is to learn either a Germanic language (such as Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German) or a Romance language (such as Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian). English speakers are lucky to have so many options given the great number of similarities shared between Germanic and Romance languages in the past!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Franco and Linguistic Fascism

It's probably safe to say that Francisco Franco wasn't a very nice man. His oppression of linguistic freedom in Spain wasn't the worst thing he did, but we do write a blog about languages so it's obvious what we'll be focusing on today.

Franco was a dictator and, like most dictators,
did some very bad things.

Despite being from Galicia, where both Galician and Spanish are spoken, Franco's hatred of the minority languages in Spain stemmed from a paranoia that the minorities would shatter his idea of a unified Spain and could communicate under his nose.

The Second Spanish Republic had recognised Catalan, Basque and Galician, but Franco abolished the statutes in favour of Spanish (or Castilian), which became the only official language of Spain. Under Franco, schooling and the media were always in Spanish. The minority languages became even more threatened as the number of speakers they had dropped.

The red area is where Spanish is currently spoken.
Other colours indicate the minority languages of Spain.

The Basque language was threatened and could have been extinct by now had Franco's regime continued in Spain. Towards the end of his tenure as dictator "by the grace of God", the minority languages were almost never spoken in large towns and cities and were severely under threat in smaller settlements such as villages.

Under Franco, Spaniards would be punished if found to be not speaking in Spanish. In Catalonia,some citizens would speak Catalan in their homes although it was punishable under law. However, Catalan was rarely spoken in the streets, at least not whilst under the watchful eyes of Franco's men.

The Falangist movement can be considered
to be different from fascism.

The effects of Franco's regime are still visible in Spain and the minority languages are still in a state of revival. Fortunately, neither Catalan nor Galician are considered to be endangered, while Basque is only considered to be vulnerable according to UNESCO. They would, however, be faring much better had it not been for Franco, his regime and the heavily-centralised and monolingual policies he enacted.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Word Game Apps

Yesterday we told you about some of the best language games. Today we've got a list of some of the best language games for your smartphone, tablet or whatever. Get on the App store, marketplace or equivalent and check some of these out.

Words With Friends/Word Jax (Windows Phone)

If you are familiar with Scrabble, then you know how to play Words With Friends. The multi-platform app is available on Facebook (for when you should be working), iPhone and Android. We recommend it for anyone who likes Scrabble but has friends that don't have the same phone...

Word Scramble/Wordament (Windows Phone)

The classic game of Boggle digitally available for Windows Phone and other platforms. Slide your finger around to make words from a grid. No problem.

It's like this, only portable and
easy to discreetly play at work!

Hangman Free

The original classroom game now available for smartphones. You know the rules and how to play. Plus, you can avoid a disagreement on whether or not drawing the base of the gallows counts as a life lost or not.


Mahjong plus Scrabble? More or less. Remove the tiles in order to spell words. Really simple but incredibly addictive. Phone ran out of battery from playing too much? There are also versions available for the PC, Nintendo DS and Wii so you'll probably never be too far from this twist on the Chinese classic.

If you don't understand this we don't recommend WordJong.


This game combines two challenges in one - you're solving clues and guessing a quote at the same time. This acrostic puzzle has two parts: on one side you get regular crossword clues you must solve, but each blank is numbered. The numbers correspond to a letter in the quote on the other side. It's definitely a challenge, but if you get stuck with the clues you can always try to work out words in the quote, or vice versa.

If you know of any other great word or language games, we'd love to try them out! Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Language Games You Wanted For Christmas

Even though you're probably hungover, bloated or both, there are a few things you probably wish you had done differently over the holidays. We have a few of the games you wish you had played rather than eating that extra piece of turkey...


When it doesn't descend into an argument, this is a great game. Players move around the board based on the number of words their partner can guess in a given time period. They must describe the words without saying a part of the word or spelling the word. A great way to test your linguistic capabilities.


The original language board game. Scrabble tests your abilities with letters and lexicon. Now with the addition of 2-letter words, people can get annoyed by your use of za and qi.


A bit like Scrabble, but not exactly the same. In Bananagrams you have to make words using all the tiles you have in a form similar to a crossword. Every time a player has used all their tiles everyone takes an extra tile. The player who finishes when there are no spare tiles left is declared the winner. Humorous banana puns included.


You should know this game. You know how many letters are in the word. You guess a letter. Every time you get it wrong you lose a "life" and error by error you build the gallows to hang yourself. Of course there are plastic versions of this game but it can be played with a paper and pen.


Dice with letters? Boggle is another game involving anagrams. Shake up the dice and see how many words you can find in a given time period. The longer the better.

Pass The Bomb

How are you with suffixes, prefixes or just words in general? In Pass the Bomb you are given a combination of letters that must be in either the beginning, the end or in any part of a word. Start the bomb and you can only pass it on once you've thought of a word. If the bomb blows up in your hands... unlucky.


Maybe your patience was stretched thin by your family. If so, crosswords are the ultimate solo sport. Sit down, relax, grab a pen and train your brain with general knowledge combined with word placement.


You're given a list of 12 categories and a starting letter. A timer is started for 3 minutes, and you have to come up with a word that starts with the chosen letter that fits in each category. You don't get any points if someone has the same word as you, so you better come up with creative answers that nobody else has thought of if you want to win!


Probably easier than the other options but a classic for school-kids. A grid of letters with words hidden somewhere in them. Simple.

Word Ladder/Word Golf

Start with one word. Answer a question. The answer to the next question will be almost identical to the previous, except one letter has changed. CART becomes DART becomes MART becomes MARK. Get it? Good.

Now get back to recovering from the Yuletide excess.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We'd like to extend a merry Christmas greeting to all of our readers. As you open your presents, have some good food and drinks, and before the inevitable fighting with your family begins we'll quickly tell you about the origins of the word Christmas.

It came from the Old English for "Christ's Mass", Crīstesmæsse, which in turn gave us Cristemasse in Middle English. For all those that like a good "humbug" over the use of Xmas, you should know that using X as an abbreviation for Christ has been around since around 1551, when the word X'temmas was used.

The French word Noël came from Latin (as did most French words) and referred to "birth", or natalis in Latin. Other European languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and Italian all make references to birth as well. Spanish has Navidad, the Portuguese use Natal, and the Italian language gives us Natale.

Now get back to your family and enjoy that turkey!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Misinterpretation: Why The World Isn't Ending

As anyone who has ever translated anything will know, misreading and misinterpreting information can lead to the loss of the entire meaning of a sentence. Even if you're not an interpreter or translator you should know that sometimes your words can be misunderstood. "That's not what I meant" is heard far too often.

Language has a wonderful ability to mean several things at once. However, if you have misunderstood the message or misinterpreted its meaning it can have dire consequences. Take the Mayan Calendar for example. Suddenly a lot of people believe it's the end of the world. We find it hard to believe that anyone is actually taking this seriously, but they are.

The Aztec Sun Stone. Often wrongly used to represent the Maya.

The Maya did little more than make a calendar... ironically, a calendar that far surpassed their time on this earth. Check the calendar on your phone or computer. It probably goes past a date that you expect to reach as a living being. Just because your phone only goes up to 2999 doesn't mean that the world ends then. It simply means that its designers didn't believe you'd have much use for a calendar beyond that date.

The Maya happened to do the same. They made a calendar and it ended today, thanks to a conversion from their system of dates to the Gregorian calendar. If we'd made the calendar in stone we'd probably have given up well before today's date.

Of course, this information has been misread. There is little information to suggest the Maya believed the world would end today. The only information given is what date it is and what date the calendar ends. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let's hope that nobody finds this calendar and thinks
the Italians believe the world ends at the end of 2012.

The records left by the Maya have been distorted and open to interpretation and, more importantly, misinterpretation. Even if the Maya believed that at the end of the cycle on their calendar the world would end, it doesn't necessarily in any way, shape or form, mean that they were right. People used to believe the world was flat. Even before Columbus people knew the world was round. All they told Columbus is that the distance to India heading west was significantly greater than what he believed it was, and they were right.

There are actually Mayan records in existence that refer to dates after today. Clearly not all Mayans were obsessed with the 21st December 2012. There's even a reference to 21 October 4772 AD (coincidentally my birthday, not that I'll be around to see it... unless I live to 2785 years old...) which is well after today's date.

Few know what the 13th b'ak'tun (the end of a Mayan long cycle) indicated. The Maya definitely preferred history to prophecy and had little to no mention of being able to predict the future. Even if they said they could, would you believe them?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dubbing Or Subtitling?

Say you want to watch a film in a foreign language. If you speak the language then you don't have a problem. If you don't, then what is the best way to make sure that the film doesn't lose anything when its viewers don't speak the language?

There are three options to ensure that the viewer can understand the film. The first is to learn the language (we previously gave you 10 reasons to do this), but most people can't do this for just one film. Our second option is to replace the audio from the dialogue with rerecorded dialogue in the target language, known as dubbing. The third option is to have all dialogue translated and show the transcript at the same time as the original audio, known as subtitling. We're going to ignore the first option to focus on the latter two: dubbing and subtitling.


What are the drawbacks of dubbing? Older kung fu films are famous for their bad dubbing. Is it really bad dubbing, though? Given the vast differences between English and Mandarin Chinese it's always going to be difficult for sentences to sound natural and take the same length of time to execute in either language. This means that characters will either appear to be talking when they're not or viewers will hear characters talking even though their mouths aren't moving.

The work of the original cast loses something as well. We're hardly experts on drama but we're fairly certain that an actor's performance includes both their dialogue and their movements. If you mix dialogue from one actor with the movements of another there will always be something lost.

Maybe the largest issue we have with dubbing is the language. When a film is dubbed there will be little to no evidence of the original language. We'd like to think occasionally scriptwriters think of phonaesthetics (the inherent beauty of certain words and phrases) when they write a scene. This also disappears when a film is dubbed.


One of the most common reasons we hear for not watching a foreign film is that people are generally annoyed by subtitles. Reading and watching a film are two different things, and certain people believe that the two should never meet.

Subtitling forces the viewer to read throughout the whole film and a lot of people hate this. Subtitles have to take up part of the screen and if there is not space above or below the film, as in letterbox formats, the subtitles have to take up space amongst the visuals of a film. This either will cover certain visual aspects of the film or make the viewer look away from a certain area of the screen.

A map of world film translation standards.
Dark blue is dubbing for children only, otherwise subtitling.
Purple is dubbing in all cases except non-children's films. Red is all dubbing. 

Neither solution is ideal and where dubbing can be preferential in certain films, such as animated films where the movements of a character's mouth are not as distinct as that of a real human, we believe that subtitling wins out overall. Subtitling, though distracting from the visuals, leaves the foreign language to be heard and as we love languages, is preferential to us.

The foreign language skills in countries where subtitling is favoured over dubbing seem to far surpass that of countries where the opposite is true. If subtitling can help people become familiar with a foreign language and learn then it will always be our preferred method.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Get It Right: Uninterested And Disinterested

People frequently make mistakes when deciding between usage of disinterested and uninterested. More often than not we hear people using disinterested in place of uninterested, and rarely the other way round. We've taken the opportunity to tell you why when you say disinterested you actually mean uninterested and vice-versa.


Does something bore you to tears? Do you have absolutely no interest in it? Then it's uninterested you're thinking of. When you couldn't care less. That's when to use uninterested.

As cool as it looks, you'd probably still be
uninterested in watching this paint dry.


Though the dis- prefix is often used for antonyms, disinterested is not the opposite of interested. If you are not interested in something, that does not make you disinterested. Disinterested is being impartial and having no bias.

If this is still too difficult for you, disinterested can be thought of as meaning impartial, unbiased or even uninvested. Uninterested can be thought of as indifferent, as in not caring.

If you're ever unfortunate enough to end up in a bar brawl, then pray the police dealing with your case are disinterested and not uninterested!

It doesn't matter how cool your car is.
A good policeman is always disinterested.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Turing Test And Synthesizing Language

We were playing on Cleverbot the other day and it got us thinking about how complex language really is. We've already mentioned that recognising speech is near impossible and translating it with a machine or programme is nigh on impossible.

If you try out the website for yourself, you'll probably quickly realise that it's a machine (including the disclaimer that says so) and that it can't really communicate. It definitely tries...

So why is it so difficult? The Turing Test is a method used to gauge how authentically a machine or AI can replicate the behaviours of a human and Cleverbot is trying to pass this test. If the user cannot distinguish it from the natural behaviour of a human it can be said to have passed the test.

One of the permutations of the Turing Test.

If you type a message into a terminal you should be able to tell if the invisible person on the other end of your conversation is a man or a machine. If you cannot, then the AI has done its job in pretending to be human.

Of course, this method also depends on the human gauging whether or not the answers are coming from a machine. If you showed someone Siri in the early ages of the telephone they would have been more inclined to think it was an operator sending the information since they wouldn't have been familiar with search engines or speech recognition software. In the modern era we expect these things, so the Turing Test has become significantly more difficult.

Even simple commands that can be recognised such as "call person x" or the rendering of speech into text would baffle the Victorians. We wouldn't advise showing a caveman your smartphone immediately after he's been thawed from the ice, either.

A flaw with the test is that when it comes to man versus machine, a non-native speaker of a language could be misdiagnosed with displaying all the hallmarks of a machine due to their irregular usage of vocabulary on unnatural sentence structures.

Language is a complex structure and, just like your favourite song, even if you know all the words it doesn't guarantee that you'll be any good at it. It becomes even more complicated when the communication is bilateral. You have to take in information, process it, find the correct information, find the correct words, put them in the correct order and execute this all in either the written or spoken form. Even when technology seems to be able to do it all, it can often fall short of being comparable to the real thing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why Does NATO Have Its Own Alphabet?

If you've ever watched Police, Camera, Action in the UK or Cops in the U.S. then you know that registration/license plates are always read using the old phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc...
Alpha is also the first letter of the Greek alphabet.

This system is known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet or its more complicated and dull name, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet. If you've ever asked how to spell somebody's name over the phone it can become quite complicated. S and F are hard to distinguish as are B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V and Z (if you're American... zed doesn't sound anything like those letters).

The alphabet was needed for pilots and crews when saying letters in radio transmissions. The International Civil Aviation Authority needed such a system because when you're in charge of flying tonnes of metal, a high quality of information between the air and the ground is essential to prevent killing people.

NATO saw this and thought it wasn't too bad. They adopted it. Of course it's not imperative that you learn this, unless you're in any of the emergency services, aviation or the military. We've found that "S for Sugar" and "F for Freddy" tends to work just fine instead. However, we do imagine you probably wouldn't have time to work out which words to use for each letter if you're chasing down a perp who's making a break for the Mexican border...

S can also be for sugar.

For anyone in the UK, trying to explain your postcode over the phone begins to get tricky as the system uses a combination of numbers and letters, which allows for more combinations as well as opportunities to get it wrong. Online shopping probably took off because mail-order over the phone probably never arrived at the right address!

Here's the full NATO alphabet for your perusal... guess which one's our favourite!
Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu

Did you guess correctly?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Post 100!

Well, we've made it to our 100th post! Our hands are sore from typing and our eyes are sore from reading and researching. That said, we've loved every minute of it and we hope you have too. We'd like to extend a big thank you, merci, grazie, danke, gracias, etc to everyone reading, commenting, tweeting and generally getting involved with The Lingua File.

The cake is not a lie.

We've spent the last 100 posts giving you our two cents. If you were wondering, the word cent came from the Latin word centum, meaning "one hundred", and was used in Middle English. Today we've got a few hundred words. That's words related to hundred and not hundreds of them!

It's seen better days...

Centennial is another word that has its origins in centum. Centenary came from centarius in Latin, meaning "relating to one-hundred". The word century initially meant 100 of anything, not specifically years.

The prefix centi- is from French, though the French took it from centum as well for their new metric system which, despite a typically English opposition to anything French, made its way into usage in the UK along with the prefix.

The countries in red don't like the metric system very much.

The word hundred was originally just hund in Old English, though there was an Old Norse word hundrath which meant 120 and not 100.

Feel free to voice your opinions on our labour of linguistic love in the comments below, or share with us on our Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This Sentence Is False: The Paradox Of Language

At some point in your life, you've probably been introduced to the "this sentence is false" paradox or one of its many variants. The problem with the statement is that if the sentence is true then the sentence is false, meaning it's true, meaning it's false... we could go on forever. Needless to say the only truth in the sentence is that it's a paradox. Or is it?

This picture is also paradoxical.

A lot of people who spend more time thinking than doing (we'll call them philosophers) believe this to be the case. However, it is only in certain languages that this works.

A few people have tried to get their heads around this conundrum. Some have even stated that it can't be true or false because language can only imply truths, and not ensure them. For example, just because you say it doesn't make it true... or is that false?

How many times have you said something as an absolute when you actually meant it as a generalisation? Think of "French cuisine is fantastic", you can't possibly mean all food in France is amazing. If you do mean that then you've never gone to Quick, the French equivalent of McDonald's. What about the famous "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe) artwork by Magritte? It was asserting that it was an image of a pipe, rather than an actual pipe... which we think is probably being overly pedantic.

Ceci n'est pas haute cuisine.

All we can really assert about "this sentence is false" is that it can be useful to escape crazed robots and AIs since their programming cannot process logical paradoxes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Is The World's Sexiest Accent?

Sometimes it's not what you say but how you said it. We've been looking into which accents are most likely to help you convince somebody that they should share their genetic material with you.

This list is hardly definitive. You can't always expect your accent entice members of the opposite sex. Following some research and our personal preferences, we think we have a decent short-list of contenders for the title of world's sexiest language. Here they are in alphabetical order.

American, Southern American

Though it's not at the top of everyone's list, the American accent is well-known and can be very popular, especially if you're from the Deep South. There's something very friendly about the accent which can do its speakers a great favour if they're trying to get someone in the sack. Yeehaw!

This cowgirl sure knows how to use a lasso!


This one crops up quite a bit in lists... most people are probably thinking of Kylie Minogue and Nicole Kidman, which doesn't hurt. The film Australia could help put this accent in the running, plus you can't forget that Australians are viewed as some of the most fun-loving and friendly people on the planet.

Brazilian Portuguese

Given that Brazilians are already considered sexy, they didn't really need a sexy accent. Nevertheless, they have one and it's definitely sexy. The home of Carnival is full of people with a beautiful not quite Spanish and not quite French sounding accent. It's really a winning combination.

British, Oxford British

Not really an accent that would conjure up the idea of a party animal. This accent is adored by everyone looking for their very own Mr. Darcy. The sophistication that goes with the accent conjures up visions of culture, Downton Abbey and helps people forget that their skin is as pale as paper.

We didn't dare to tease the ladies with a
mention of Mr. Darcy...


The language of love was bound to figure in this list. The musical nature of French helps it rank highly on most lists you'll find. Given their fame for being exceptional lovers, the French probably don't mind this stereotype. That said, they've got a big reputation to live up to.


They have the luck of the Irish when it comes to the accent department. We are of course talking about the Irish accent from the Republic of Ireland and not Northern Ireland. Friendly, melodic and soft, except when they've had a few too many pints of Guinness.


Famed for being passionate, Italians have the accent to match. A few rolled r's and most people feel their legs miraculously turn to jelly.


James Bond wasn't the only person with a soft-spot for a Russian accent. He liked to think he was in control but we reckon he was powerless against their accent.


The Scottish accent is not only considered sexy but it's also one of the best-trusted accents in the UK. If you need somebody to tell you bad news or convince you to buy something, you better have a Scottish accent. Of course, we're referring to the classic soft-spoken Scottish accents and not the howling of Rab C. Nesbitt.

Think Sean Connery as James Bond.
Does a sexier accent really exist?

South African, Afrikaans

A fun and friendly accent. The apparent mixing up of vowels keeps people listening attentively, while just hearing them say the name of their homeland will get your blood pumping.


Definitely one of our favourites. It's fiery, passionate and very percussive. We love those rolled r's! It certainly helps that they see a lot of the sun and generally tend to be gorgeous people. Well done Spain.


Aside from the stereotype of being stunning and blonde (or blond in the case of the men), the Swedes have it good in the accent department. They don't sound like the chef from The Muppets either.

Thinking of these accents is getting us a little hot so we best stop. Which ones do it for you? Are there any that need to be added to the list or taken away? Tell us below in the comments.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Linguistic Diversity Of American Place Names

No matter where you're from, there's probably a town of the same name hiding somewhere in the United States. If you're from the U.S., then you'll probably find that your town's namesake existed long before your country did.

If you do hail from the original town and are not a native English speaker, you should prepare for disappointment in its American counterpart. Though it was probably named by settlers who spoke your native tongue, the correct pronunciation has likely long since disappeared from the American lexicon.


Though not incredibly popular with Americans, the French managed to be in possession of a hefty proportion of what is now the U.S. and there was no chance they were planning on giving the towns English names! Zut alors!

Of course, French is hardly a lingua franca in the States. The legacy left by French settlers is criminally mispronounced.

Baton Rouge? Sorry Frenchies, even though you could say this name with the perfect French accent, you've got it wrong. Des Moines? Still miles off.

Detroit is another fine example.


You can't talk empires without mentioning the Spanish. They were incredible when it came to getting on boats and making things theirs. They helped give place names to nearly all of South and Central America, as well as most of the southern United States.

Due to shifting borders and English being the most spoken language in the U.S., the Spanish would still mispronounce Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even San Diego. Nevada and even Colorado sound nothing like originally intended.

San Francisco, home to cool streetcars!


Even English language place names in the US are seemingly mispronounced. Pittsburgh has a weird h on the end. If you've ever been to Scotland, you'll realise that this is commonplace. Edinburgh has it, and as a result, is not pronounced like "berg" but more like "borough". Given that Pittsburgh was founded by a Scot, the -h is hardly a coincidence.

The Pittsburgh skyline viewed from their baseball park.

God Save The Queen

When first settling and making sure that they'd made a fantastic holiday destination for the British monarchy, many settlers would name places in honour of the current ruling king or queen. Maryland was named after Queen Henrietta Maria.

Virginia may have even been a suggestion from Sir Walter Raleigh or even Queen Elizabeth I of England since she liked to be known as a virgin... the "West" in West Virginia refers to a geographical west and not the west of Queen Elizabeth I.

Just because it sounded cool

Some settlers used town names as an opportunity to flex their own linguistic creativity. Minneapolis came from the Dakota word for waterfall "minnehaha" and the Greek suffix "polis" for city. Imagine if they'd called it Minnehaha City or even Minnehahaville?

The original Memphis was once the capital city of Egypt. Although Memphis, Tennessee was inhabited by natives for thousands of years, the odds of them contacting Ancient Egyptians because they wanted to rename their town in homage to them was slim. The name Memphis was more of a marketing ploy by the investors who bought the town.

Memphis is home to The Pyramid Arena, one of the largest pyramids
in the world. It was originally used as a sports arena but is currently
being converted into a massive sporting goods store. Only in America...
Not so new now

More often than not, American place names are inspired by where the settlers came from. That's why "The Big Apple" was New Amsterdam until the English decided that York was better than Amsterdam. Is New Jersey better than plain old Jersey? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why British English Is Better: A British Perspective

At The Lingua File we write from both sides of the pond, which can occasionally make edits and redrafts a little tricky. Since we constantly bicker, today and tomorrow we're discussing which is better, British English or American English. Don't be hating, it's just a bit of fun!

It's time to get patriotic... linguistically.


The lexicon of British English has more fun words. British comedian Michael McIntyre has made some good points on the lack of ambiguity in the American English lexicon. A few examples include sidewalk instead of the obviously correct pavement and path. We really don't need to be told where we're walking.

We can go horse riding instead of horseback riding. We know where to sit on a horse. That's why we did so well in the Olympics... at least in equestrian events. Mitt Romney's horse is shit.

The Swearwords

We have fantastic swear words (curse words) that Americans should study:
Arse, ass is the animal.
Bollocks, you will grow to love using this adaptable word.
Fanny refers to female genitalia, not the buttocks, please do not tell us about how you fell on your fanny.
Knackers are your testicles, unless you're a girl, then you don't have any.
Shite is a good replacement for shit, it rhymes with "light" if you're wondering.


Don't get me started on tube (toob), Tuesday (toosday), due (doo) and my personal favourite, duty (doody). Longitude is just a nightmare, lon-ji-tood... give me a break!

This is the tube. It's also very British.

Mary, merry and marry are three distinct words, for those that don't pronounce them this way, please work on it.

Caught and cot are also different, please work on this. Wok and walk? Same rules apply.

How about the letter a? Why do Americans have such trouble with this? Even in the General American accent this sound can grate on British ears. It sounds like they're chewing gum.

There's also another vowel sound we like, which leads us perfectly to...

The Schwa

schwa is a neutral vowel sound. It's just about the laziest vowel sound you can produce.

British English has a certain flow to it. Usually the stress is at the beginning of a word and the rest just sort of falls out of our mouths. As the length of a word increases, the chances of encountering a schwa approaches one. It's basically a certainty that a speaker of British English will use the odd schwa.

The issue with American English is that there aren't enough schwas! Words are too meticulously pronounced and it can come across as condescending.

The Accents

British English has a rich variety of accents across such a small island. Of course there are accents across American English, too, but they just don't change wildly enough for my liking. Most British people can tell where you're from within a 20 mile area just from your accent. I've seen Americans having to double-check if somebody is Canadian... though you can usually tell by the maple leaf on their backpack.

Look at that variation just on the "a" in "bath".

The Spelling

Though he can be commended for helping teach Americans how to read and write, Noah Webster was a known hater of the English, and therefore a wanker. Most of his spelling amendments were not only to make the language easier to write, but also as a big middle finger (rather than the better "v" sign) to the Brits who liked their language with a bit of historical colour and flavour, rather than color and flavor. It seems everyone else was quite fine with the way things were spelt... Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and even Canada to some extent.

Even though the -ize suffix is older, the language should really be moderated by those whose language it is. It is English after all, not American. The British should be allowed to change their language as and when they see fit.

The Oxford (or serial) Comma

This is an ongoing debate. From what I've seen, the Oxford comma is actually more frequently used in the U.S. rather than the UK. It can be used in both places, but we were told in school that you never put a comma before and. Of course, I will put a comma in if it can make a sentence clearer, but only then.


The main offender here is "could care less". The British equivalent is "couldn't care less" which shows just how little you care about something. The American option makes no sense.


As always, zed is last. It's not zee... where did zee even come from? Sure, it rhymes if you sing the song rhyming with vee... as in "T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z. Now I know my ABCs", except you don't as it's ZED! It rhymes with head!

At least Canadians learn the alphabet correctly...

Obviously there is no right answer to this. Tomorrow we'll have our American perspective on the issue but given that it's subjective it may never be resolved. It's a matter of opinion and we're just taking the piss.

*Note: This article and its counterpoint were written as satire. Neither of the writers actually believe that one variety of English is better than the other. Please keep this in mind and be respectful when commenting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

10 Reasons To Learn Another Language

You may only speak one language, or perhaps you already speak a few. In either case, we've got ten reasons why you should learn another language.


Learning another language is just that, learning. If you like developing your mind then there are few hobbies as challenging and rewarding as mastering another language. Many transferable skills are honed by studying a language.


With the world becoming more connected, having an extra language can make you more desirable to employers in your own country and across the world. In a global community your language skills could get you a job in this hostile economy.


Language jobs can be quite lucrative and are definitely better paid than flipping burgers. If you have the skills you can progress further and earn more. We're not guaranteeing it though, so don't sue us if you still earn minimum wage!

Languages can help you get your hands
on this and possibly other currencies.


Travelling is much easier and definitely more fun when you know what's going on. It's best when you can speak with the locals and easily organise hotels and travel arrangements. The locals may even buy you a drink if you're friendly enough!

Where will your languages take you?


You can never really understand other cultures until you speak their language. Another language can give you a real appreciation for films, books, music and art that you never thought you'd experience. Plus, you'll never have to endure bad dubbing or subtitles again!

Social life

If you learn a language you open your world up to meeting new people. Perhaps you have a Polish neighbour you never speak to. There's no time like the present. Strike up a conversation! You'll soon realise that your neighbour isn't a miserable bastard, he only wanted to be invited to your noisy parties.

Love life

Increase your relationship prospects. If you can't talk to someone you're going to be hard-pressed to get them in the sack. Learn their language and woo them in their own tongue, they may even thank you for it. In more ways than one.

What's the Italian word for cappuccino?


If you learn another language then you probably will have to speak it to other people at some point. Practising speaking in another language can help improve your confidence and really bring people out of their shells.

Your native language
Learning languages improves your ability in your own language. It may sound ridiculous but it's true. You learn about languages in general, and some things you learn in one language can improve your understanding of your own language.

Understanding the world

Learning a language won't make you all-knowing. It will, however, help you to understand a little more about the weird and wonderful creatures known as people. The whole human race is a giant and mind-numbingly complex puzzle and languages are one of the pieces.

It's a big world. You can make it feel a little less daunting with another language.

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Get It Right: Further And Farther

It's been a while since we've had a condescending post on common mistakes in the English language so we've got one for you today. Have we gone too far? We hardly think so.

Our confusion today comes from the changing of one little vowel. Is it a or is it u? Here we have two words that have similar meanings and similar spellings. They are usually used interchangeably and in all fairness you shouldn't be sent to the gallows for doing so.

We'll take the liberty of explaining things for you. With what we're calling "how's your farther?"

That said, if you do want to know the difference it's quite simple.


Further is in degree of progression. It's having progressed more in a task, it technically does not mean in terms of distance. Though that is shifting with the common usage of it to mean both.

"How is your essay coming along?"
"I'm further along than I was yesterday..."

" in I have the paper."


Farther is a degree in distance. "My house is farther away than yours". It's easier to remember as it has the word far in it. If you do get stuck, avoid using it. Further is generally more acceptable and, if you like a bit of a gamble, is more likely to be correct that farther.

A Mini would get you farther on this road
than a Hummer would.

Does it matter?

We like to think getting things right in terms of language is important. There's always a time and place for it and correct usage of the two words probably won't matter in the pub, but if you want to get it right then further is metaphorical progression and farther is physical progression.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Do Spaniards Lisp?

Many people are familiar with the "lispy" Spanish accent. It is often wrongly attributed to people in Spain copying a speech impediment of the king. It is, in fact, nothing more than a natural evolution of the language and its pronunciation. The main letters involved in this phonological phenomenon are "c", "z" and "s".

So what is it? We have three main options: distinción, ceceo and seseo.


In Spanish, a few letters, such as "c" when followed by "e" or "i", and "z" have various ways to be pronounced. For the large majority of accents in Spain they are pronounced in the same way one would pronounce the "th" in "think" /θ/. However, the letter "s" is not pronounced like this and it is pronounced the same way as in sink. This is known as distinción, as the speaker has made a distinction between the c or z, and s. Quite simply if they pronounce casa (house) and caza (hunt) differently. They are using distinción.

This doesn't even begin to cover most accents in Spain.


When they are all pronounced with our /θ/ sound, this is called ceceo. Which is also the word used for lisping. Which is a lot kinder than English using a word with an s in. In this case casa and caza are pronounced the same using /θ/ for both the "s" and the "z". This is common in certain areas with Andalusia and in many cases is not a lisp, but a feature of the accent. Of course, those with a lisp will speak the same as someone whose accent features the ceceo. We've been told that in Sylvester the Cat has a ceceo in Spanish. In fact, most of the ceceo-ing happens in Andalusia.

Is that a lisp or are you just Andaluz?


When none of the sounds are pronounced /θ/ and are pronounced with a typical "s" sound, /s/ it is known as seseo. This is more common with speakers of Spanish in the Americas. Our test words casa and caza will both be pronounced the same, but with the /s/ "sink" sound rather than the /θ/ "think" sound.

That's all well and good, of course, those who use ceceo will pronounce ceceo and seseo the same, with the /θ/ sound, and those who use seseo will pronounce both the same but with the /s/ sound. So you can only truly know which one a speaker is talking about if they use distinción.

There is a less known one only used in very rural communities, we hear tales of the almost legendary jejeo, in which all the above sounds are pronounced in the way a Spanish speaker would pronounce the letter j, similar to a throaty h-sound in English.

So not all Spaniards lisp. Some distinguish, others don't.