Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Languages In The News: July 2013

Since today is the final day of July, we're going to look at how languages made it into the news over the past month. We try to share as much language news as possible on our Facebook page if you'd like to keep up with the news as it happens. If you'd rather see it summarized, look no further!

This is a thunderstorm, not a shitstorm.
To start, we found a couple of articles related to the English and German lexicons quite interesting. The Independent had a piece about the recent addition of shitstorm to the German standard lexicon. Apparently, the word has become so commonly used in Germany that Angela Merkel has even used it in public. Our only quibble about the article is the editorial decision to censor the word that is the focus of the piece, instead writing it as s***storm. If you're going to write about a word, you should at least spell the whole word out once!

Meanwhile, The Guardian bemoaned the decline of the use of "thank you" in Britain. If you have a few moments to spare, it's an amusing look at the phrase and some of its many replacements, including "ta", "cheers", and "cool".

In sports news, The New York Times featured an article about how English has suddenly risen to the top of the language ranks at the Tour de France. The importance of being able to communicate with English-language media is mentioned as one possible cause.

Kryptonite, perhaps?
If you're a Superman fan, you may be interested in this piece by It describes linguistic anthropologist Christine Schreyer's work in the creation of the Kryptonian language used in his most recent film, Man of Steel.

We love to see that languages are getting the support they need to thrive, something that is exemplified by a recent Scottish project. According to the BBC, the Scottish government is giving £2 million to fund an online Gaelic dictionary. It's likely to take several decades to complete, but it's certainly money well spent. 

In the world of science, a new language may have been born in a remote area of Australia. Warlpiri rampaku, also known as Light Warlpiri, is said to have about 350 native speakers, all younger than age 35. New research by some Dutch scientists also suggests that Neanderthals may have shared linguistic elements with humans which exist in our languages to this day!

Is there a language article we missed that you really enjoyed this past month? Let us know about it below in the comments.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Get It Right: Good And Well

One of the simplest things in the English language is also something that many people get wrong most of the time. Today we're having a look at the difference between good and well, two positive words that have to work together with two particular word types.

If you are familiar with two of the most common grammatical elements in most languages, verbs and nouns, then this should cause no problem.

Nectar from the heavens.

Good is an adjective. As a result it should really only be used with nouns. You can play well, but you can't play good. Another example: beer is good. Though at times, we believe that has one too many o's...


Well is an adverb and as a result should be used with verbs. You can't have a "well" noun, though you can do something well. You should definitely make sure that you haven't used a verb with "good" as an adverb, because it's not one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Language Profile: Yoruba

A few months ago, we finally reached our first African language in our profile of Hausa, a Chadic language spoken in Niger and Nigeria. Today we'll be looking at Yoruba, another African language principally spoken in Nigeria and Benin.

Yoruba is a member of the Niger-Congo language family, and is the native language of the Yoruba people, an ethnic group in West Africa. While it does not have official status in any country, it is considered to be a major language of Nigeria alongside Hausa and Igbo, while English is the country's official language. In Benin, French is official, while Yoruba and Fon are important vernacular languages. 

The Cathedral of Cotonou, the largest city in Benin.
The language has many dialects that are generally divided into three groups by geographic area. There is also a standard dialect of Yoruba that is taught in schools, used by news media, and is the main written form of the language.

Religion has also influenced the vocabulary of Yoruba since Christianity and Islam have been adopted by some members of the Yoruba ethnic group. In particular, the language has incorporated several Arabic loanwords due to the influence of Islam in the area. 

While Yoruba was once written using a form of Arabic script, for several centuries it has been written primarily using Latin alphabets. It is currently written using a Latin alphabet without the letters c, q, v, x, and z, but with the addition of the digraph gb. In Benin however, a slightly different Latin-based alphabet is used.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yiddish Loanwords: Part 3

Over the past few days, we've been checking out some of our favorite Yiddish loanwords that have become part of the English language over the years. Today we've got our final group of terms to share with you. Be sure to check out Part 1 for more information about the Yiddish language, and Part 2 for some great "sh" words too!

Klutz - This term just sounds clumsy, which is apt since it means "clumsy person". It started out as Klotz in German, and eventually became klots in Yiddish before making its way into English. It literally translates as "block", hence the term being connected to "blockhead" as well. 

Mensch - If you're looking for a decent person, someone of strength and honor, then you're looking for a mensch. The word comes from the German Mensch, meaning "man" or "person", which eventually became mentsh in Yiddish.

Meshuga - Add this to the long list of synonyms for "crazy". It comes from the Hebrew meshugga, meaning "to go astray" or "wander", which evolved into the Yiddish term meshuge

Cardinal tchotchkes galore!
Tchotchke - Another great word meaning "trinket" or "knick-knack", it comes from the Yiddish tsatske. Its origins are likely found in a Slavic language such as Polish or Russian.

Tush - If you were a fan of the TV series Full House as a child in the early 1990s, you should definitely know this word and its other form, tushy. It's a shorter form of tokhes, a Yiddish term meaning "buttocks" that comes from the Hebrew word tahat, meaning "beneath". 

Verklempt - This word isn't heard too often in English, but it's a great term for when you're overwhelmed with emotion. It originated in German as verklemmt

Yenta - Finally, we have yenta, a great word to use in reference to a gossipy woman. It started out as a popular feminine name in Yiddish, and eventually became synonymous with busybodies. Interestingly, the word may have originated in Italian as the word gentile, which unsurprisingly means "gentle".

Did we leave out your favorite Yiddish term that's used in the English language? Let us know in the comments below, and please include a definition.

Part 1

Part 2

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Yiddish Loanwords: Part 2

Yesterday, we took a brief look at the Yiddish language and began our exploration of some of its diverse terms that have enriched English over the years. We're continuing our look today with seven Yiddish words that all begin with the 'sh' sound that is often heard in the language.

Schlong - If you're trying to avoid referring to a certain male appendage by name, you might choose to use this Yiddish word instead. It comes from the world shlang, which aptly translates literally as "snake".

Just a couple of smoks with a golden egg...
Schmuck - There's something so satisfying about using the word schmuck for someone who's a fool or jerk. However, the term is considered to be far more vulgar in Yiddish than it is in English, and was even considered to be a taboo term that should never be said in recent history. It's yet another term that literally means "penis", and comes from the Yiddish word shmok, which in turn may have come from the Old Polish term smok meaning "dragon".

Schmo - This is yet another term for a stupid or obnoxious person, which is likely a variation of the aforementioned schmuck.

Schvitz - In case you were wondering, a person who says they are schvitzing is sweating! It originated as the German word schwitzen.

Shtick - Another word for an "act" or "gimmick", shtick is usually used in reference to comedy acts. The Yiddish word shtik literally translates as "a piece", and in turn came from the Middle High German word stücke. 

Shtup - This word used to mean "annoy", but is now mainly used in English as a slang term meaning "to have sex with". It comes from the Yiddish word shtoop, which literally translates as "push" or "shove".

Spiel - Our final word today refers to a persuasive speech or sales pitch. It's certainly much easier on the tongue than either of those terms! It came from either the Yiddish word shpil or the German word Spiel, which both mean "play".

Tomorrow we'll conclude our look at Yiddish with our last group of loanwords.

Part 1

Part 3

Friday, July 26, 2013

Yiddish Loanwords: Part 1

In the past we've looked at loanwords that have made their way into English from languages across the globe, from Hebrew to Chinese. Over the next few days, we'll be looking at some great loanwords from Yiddish, which is actually a Germanic language.

Yiddish is an interesting language in that it developed when Ashkenazi Jews moved to Central Europe. Various German dialects intermingled with their Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic vocabulary, and eventually Yiddish was born. Unlike other Germanic languages, Yiddish is written using the Hebrew alphabet.

While it had about 12 million native speakers before World War II, in present times the vast majority of speakers learn Yiddish as a second language. Most live in Europe and North America, with approximately a third living in the United States. The majority of Yiddish terms that became a part of the English language did so due to large Yiddish populations in New York that influenced the local dialect. Eventually, many of these words became popular across the U.S., though they are also found to a lesser extent in British English.

There's nothing like freshly baked bagels.
Without further ado, we have some of our favorite Yiddish words to share with you. 

Bagel - One of our favorite breakfast foods (though really, they're great any time of day), these ring-shaped bread rolls get their name from the Yiddish term beygl, which in turn came from the Middle High German term boug, meaning "ring".

Kvetch - If you're ever in need for a great word instead of "complain" or "whine", why not try this out? It comes from the Yiddish term kvetshn, meaning "press" or "squeeze".

Glitch - It has a much better ring to it than "minor malfunction", doesn't it? Originally used as technical jargon by engineers, this term probably comes from Yiddish glitsh meaning "a slip", from the German term glitschen, "slide". 

Maven - Most commonly seen in the term "fashion maven", this word means that someone is an expert. It's usually heard in a positive light in English, but in Yiddish it can also be used to refer to a know-it-all. It comes from meyvn in Yiddish, which originated in Hebrew as the word mebhin, which literally translates as "one who understands".

Putz - You may want to avoid using this Yiddish word, as it's considered vulgar. It's an insult that usually translates as calling someone a "fool", but it can also be used to refer to the male genitalia!

Nosh - This one means "snack", and can be used as either a noun or a verb. It's from the Yiddish term nashn, meaning "nibble".

Tomorrow, we'll have even more Yiddish loanwords to share with you.

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tech Corner: Duolingo

Nowadays, there's an app for just about everything, and language learning is no exception. Today we're going to look at Duolingo, an app designed to help you learn or practice any of five languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and French.

Designed by a computer science professor and a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Duolingo is a translation-based app available for iOS and Android, though it can also be accessed online. Once you've selected the language you want to practice, you get to your "skill tree" filled with various subjects, from "Food" to "Verbs: Conditional Perfect". Each subject contains several lessons, though if you believe you've already mastered a specific area you can test out of it and move ahead in your tree.

This, on the other hand, is a Portuguese tree.
So does it work? I decided to try out the Spanish tree, and spent about an hour each day for a week freshening up my skills while testing out of the various subjects. The translation basis for the app was a great way to review everything from grammar to vocabulary.

Each lesson feels like a mini game, which seems like a smart way to keep people interested. You have four lives per lesson, and must complete a certain number of tasks in order to pass. In most cases, you're given a word, phrase, or sentence to translate. Sometimes you have to write it yourself, while other times you're given a word bank (with extra unusable words) that you must select terms from and put in order. As you progress, you can also test your pronunciation if you have a microphone.

The flag of Spain waving in the wind.
As for issues with the app, no computer program is ever perfect, and Duolingo does have some translation issues, though they are few and far between. Given their discussion forums, it seems clear that I was not the only person puzzled by the repeated use of emparedado for "sandwich", while bocadillo and sándwich were considered incorrect. My main quibble would be that it occasionally rejects Castilian Spanish terms and instead insists on Latin American terms, which mainly bothered me because there was a little Spanish flag in the corner of the screen, and not a Mexican or Chilean flag. 

Overall, I certainly can't attest to whether or not it is the perfect language-learning tool for everyone, but it definitely seems to be worth a try for those who are inclined towards translation as a learning method, especially since it's free. At the very least, it could be useful to review specific skills, especially for high school or college students looking for some verb conjugation practice before a big exam. 

As a final note, the website sounds as if it is far more developed than the relatively new app, including possibilities to participate in crowdsourced translations that are contracted to Duolingo. Have you tried out Duolingo or another language-learning app or website? We'd love to hear about your experiences and recommendations!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Film Club: Los Amantes Pasajeros

In previous film posts, we've looked at the French film Les Choristes, as well as Perfect Sense, an English-language film with a Scottish director and a Danish writer. Today, we're going to take a moment to talk about the most recent film from Spain's most internationally known director, Pedro Almodóvar.

The film takes place in the skies above Spain.
If you've never seen an Almodóvar film, you're in for an eye-opening experience upon viewing Los amantes pasajeros. His films are certainly not to everyone's taste, so if you're easily offended, especially by sex and drug use, then this may not be the film for you. However, those who are open to just about any film will quite possibly find themselves laughing out loud at the utter ridiculousness the characters become immersed in.

The film centers on the front section of a flight headed from Spain to Mexico that encounters a technical problem. Three flight attendants try their hardest to entertain the privileged few who are seated in business class. Half the fun of the film is learning about the characters, so we'll suffice it to say that they're an interesting group who learn each other's secrets as they panic over their possible impending doom. We'll leave the film up to others to interpret, but desire and relationships are certainly integral themes of the film. 

If you're fluent in Spanish, we recommend watching the film in its original language. For those who are still learning or have let their Spanish skills get a bit rusty, finding a version with English subtitles might be the way to go. The female characters, especially Bruna (played by Lola Dueñas), speak much more slowly and clearly than the hilarious male flight attendants, who are much more animated. 

You may want to make yourself a pitcher of
Agua de Valencia to drink while you watch the film!
One key term you may want to know is Agua de Valencia, which despite its name, is not water from Valencia. It's actually a cocktail that combines cava or champagne, orange juice, gin, vodka, and in the case of the film, one other extra special ingredient.

The title of the film has a dual meaning, as it refers to "lovers" (amantes) that are pasajeros, which can mean either "fleeting" or "passengers". It's a very cleverly titled film, as both connotations are apt. In English, a literal translation would not provide the same meaning, and it was instead named I'm So Excited. This would seem like a strange choice, but it actually nods to our favorite part of the film, a musical number performed by the flight attendants to the famous song by The Pointer Sisters. If you're looking for a light film to enjoy and 90 minutes of Spanish practice, you should definitely check it out.

If you've seen Los amantes pasajeros or any other great foreign language films recently, let us know what you thought of them in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In The Middle East And Africa

Lately we've been paying homage to some of the best multilingual settlements in the world across Europe, Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean, South America, and Asia. Today we're heading to the birthplace of humanity and one of the most multilingual continents on the planet, Africa.

Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana
Accra, Ghana

Home to approximately 4 million people, English, Akan, and Ga are spoken in Ghana's capital city. Akan, which only has about 11 million total speakers, is also spoken in the Ivory Coast and Benin.

The city, as you would expect of any capital city, is home to many administrative buildings and businesses. The name Accra has been suggested to come from the Akan word for "ants", owing to the large number of anthills that used to line the landscapes surrounding where the city would eventually expand.

The Ga language, which is also spoken in Accra by around 600,000 people, belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages, just like Akan.

Sanandaj, Iran

Iran's third largest city, Sanandaj, is particularly interesting owing to its large Kurdish population. Though the official language of Iran is Persian, Sanandaj, known as Senne in Kurdish, has a population that primarily speaks Kurdish, an Indo-European language with around 21 million speakers.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The second largest city in Israel, Tel Aviv is home to the Hebrew language. The language, which is spoken by around 5 million native speakers, is perhaps most famous for its use in Jewish scripture. The city also boasts Arabic and English as commonly used languages, as well as Russian and Aramaic amongst its immigrant communities.

The city also boasts a relatively low crime rate and many areas of culture and entertainment, making it one of the most modernised cities in Israel and even the Middle East. Thanks to the immigrant populations, Tel Aviv is also incredibly multicultural.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, with a population of around 800,000 in the city proper and over 4 million in the wider metropolitan area. Amongst these inhabitants, English, Xhosa, Afrikaans and many other African languages are spoken.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town features some incredible landscapes thanks to the Table Mountain and the bordering ocean. Its climate is comparable to that of southern California.

The city also has a sporting heritage having hosted such global sporting events as the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, and most recently, the 2010 World Cup, the first World Cup to be held in Africa.

If we've missed any noteworthy multilingual cities in the Middle East or Africa, tell us about them in the comments below!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Language Profile: Rajasthani

Back in May, we did a profile on Marwari, a macrolanguage spoken in India and Pakistan. At the time, we mentioned that Marwari is occasionally classified as a subgroup of the Rajasthani languages, which we would be looking at in the future. Today is finally that day, so let's get started!

Rajasthani is mainly spoken in India's largest state of Rajasthan, as well as several bordering states in both India and Pakistan. It is thought to be a linguistic descendant of Old Gujarati. As with Marwari, it is a macrolanguage, basically a group of closely related languages. According to the Ethnologue, there are six main languages that belong to the Rajasthani group.

The Hawa Mahal or "Palace of the Winds"
in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.
Bagri is spoken by about 5 million people in various districts of Rajasthan, and uses three tones: high, level, and low. Gade Lohar, also known by the name Loarki in Pakistan, is used by about 20,000 people who are mainly nomadic. Gujari has about 900,000 speakers and is spoken in both India and Pakistan.

Haroti, also known as Hadoti, boasts 4 million speakers and uses a nominative marker not found in other Rajasthani languages. Malvi has several dialects of its own, including the prestige dialect of Ujjaini, though a majority of people in the Malva region of Rajasthan also communicate using Hindi. Finally, Wagdi has about 2 million native speakers.

As with many other languages native to India and Pakistan, classification of Rajasthani and its many varieties is incredibly tricky. The macrolanguage is also considered by some to be a dialect of Hindi. However you classify these many languages or dialects, it is certainly interesting to see the linguistic diversity of the region.

Like Maithili, Marathi, and other languages native to India, Rajasthani is principally written in Devanagari script. In Pakistan, it is also occasionally written using a variety of Sindhi script. The language uses three tones, as well as 10 vowels and 31 consonants.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Belgian National Day: The Languages of Belgium

Today is due to be an especially eventful Belgian National Day. Known in Belgium as La Fête nationale belge in French, Belgische nationale feestdag in Dutch, and Belgischer Nationalfeiertag in German, this day each year is used to celebrate the inauguration of the country's first king, Leopold I, in 1831.

The Royal Palace of Brussels
This year, it happens that the current monarch, King Albert II, will be abdicating the throne due to health reasons. It's only natural that he chose this symbolic day to pass the torch on to his son, Prince Philippe, who will be sworn in later in the day. In celebration of the Belgian National Day, we're going to take a look at some of the languages spoken in this small, linguistically diverse country.

The Official Languages

Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. Dutch, often known as Flemish in Belgium, is the first language of about 56% of Belgium's population. French is the mother tongue of about 38% of the population, yet it is the most popular second language in the country. The German-speaking population of the country numbers less than 100,000, yet the language has much higher numbers of speakers who use it as a second language than Dutch.

Flemish Dialects

There are several Flemish dialects spoken in Belgium. Brabantian is said to have been the basis for the standardized form of Dutch. West Flemish and East Flemish are also spoken in the Belgian provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders, respectively.

The Meuse River in Liège, the economic center of Wallonia.
Langues d'oïl

As we mentioned in our post for Bastille Day, the langues d'oïl are a group of languages that make up a difficult to classify dialect continuum spoken in Belgium, northern and central France, and Switzerland. The languages spoken in Belgium include Walloon, Champenois, Picard, and Lorrain, which are all very closely related to French. 

Limburgish and Low Dietsch

Limburgish is so closely related to both Dutch and German that it's difficult for linguists to decide which it should be considered to be a dialect of. The same can be said of Low Dietsch, which is also classified by some as a dialect of Limburgish. They're both mainly spoken in the Limburg region of Belgium.

Foreign Languages

As Belgium is home to the EU's headquarters, it should come as no surprise that many foreign languages also boast large numbers of speakers in the country. English is the most popular non-native language, followed by Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese, and Yiddish.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Get It Right: Lose And Loose

Today we have yet another a common spelling mistake that we've been itching to correct. Once you've read this post, you'll no longer have any excuse not to know the difference between lose and loose.

The key to not losing them is owning a good keychain.

This verb is used quite often in the English language, and can be used in several ways. It's a great word to use if something is missing, either literally or figuratively. If you're forgetful you may say that you always "lose your keys", just as you can say that you've "lost your mind" if you think you've gone crazy. Lose is also the opposite of win.


If the knot holding your shoelaces together is falling apart, your tooth is awfully wiggly, or your pants won't stay around your waist, you might be in need of this adjective. Loose is often used to describe things that aren't how they probably should be. You certainly don't want someone's loose tongue to cause them to reveal the secrets of your loose morals. The word is also occasionally combined with let to form the verb let loose, meaning to "set free" or "release". You probably don't want to find out that someone has let a bat loose in your room, for example.

Are there other common spelling or grammar mistakes that drive you crazy? Let us know in the comments, and we may correct them in the future!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 4

So far in our evaluation of the effect of Latin on the English language, we've seen the paltry linguistic influence of the Romans, the invasions of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and finally, the Norman Conquest, which had perhaps the most influential effect on Latin's arrival into the English language.

That said, the conquest isn't the end of our tale. We can't ignore the cultural and linguistic influence of the Catholic Church. From the 6th century, the Church was present in England and would stay as the country's prominent religious organisation for about a millennium. Latin had already begun to take root in the then developing English language through its use in churches across the country.

The title page of Newton's Principia.
Although King Henry VIII would later revoke the Pope's power in the Church in England following a spat with the Catholic Church regarding the denial of the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Latin Mass remained prominent in England up until the twentieth century. Due to the Church and the Norman Conquest, most of the polysyllabic words in English are of Latin or Old French origin.

However, it wasn't just religion that allowed Latin to creep its way into the English language. The sciences and the wealth of Roman technology that was introduced across Europe and parts of Africa led to Latin phraseology entering many languages, not just English.

As we have already mentioned in our previous posts about nomenclature, science, from the Latin word scientia meaning "knowledge", is heavily influenced by Latin. Even by the 17th century, scientists would work and publish their findings in Latin, despite, more often than not, being able to converse with one another in English. It's no surprise that Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was originally published in Latin in 1687, while it would be another 41 years before it would be published in English, in 1728.

So there we have it. We hope you've enjoyed nearly 2000 years of Latin's effect on the English language. It's difficult to keep it all to just four posts, so if you have anything you think we may have missed, tell us about it in the comments below.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 3

Over the past two days we've covered the Roman invasion and occupation of Great Britain, as well as the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Today we'll be looking at the end of one era and the beginning of perhaps the most important era in Latin's influence over the English language, the arrival of the Normans in 1066.

The death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings,
depicted here on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Harold, the king of England at the time, had no heir. This led the Duke of Normandy, William, to assume that he was the rightful heir to the English throne. As was the procedure at the time, the two fought one another, but only after Harold had fought a bloody battle a few days previous in northern England.

The obvious winner of the battle was William, who later was known as William the Conqueror, since conquering seemed to be his lot in life. Though not without a few years of rebellion, William eventually established himself as king a mere six years later in 1072.

Here begins one of the most important sections of Latin's effect on the English language. Though the Latin language had failed to garner much support during the Roman occupation, under William's rule the language of official documents was changed from Old English to Latin, thus beginning English's love affair with Latin in a legal and administrative capacity.

William the Conqueror.
Anglo-Norman, which was a dialect of Old French, became the norm for the ruling and upper classes in England. The peasants and lower classes, however, continued to use Old English. The effect on the linguistic landscape was profound. A multitude of Old French words, whose origins primarily lay in the Latin language, found their way into the language that was being spoken at the time.

The effects of Anglo-Norman also extended beyond the lexicon, leaving a mark on the naming conventions of the time. The naming of newborns also changed to include significantly more names of Anglo-Norman and French origin.

It is believed that the effect was much less significant amongst lower classes. However, historians believe that many of them would have needed to be bilingual merely to maintain trade, civil, and administrative relations with the upper classes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 2

Yesterday we looked at how the Romans invaded the British Isles, yet despite Latin being the lingua franca used across the Roman Empire, the language never seemed to catch on in the British Isles. This is, of course, due to the fact that Great Britain wasn't quite done with being invaded yet.

When the Romans first invaded, there was no semblance of a language related to English being spoken on the island. In fact, though Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish can be considered descendants of the original languages spoken on the island, the current de facto language of English wasn't used until the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Jutes.

A reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon helmet.
Details of when exactly the Anglo-Saxons arrived are a bit sketchy, though historians believe it was after the Romans had left Britain, leaving a very paltry linguistic footprint. Dates are estimated to be during the 5th or 6th centuries. The Anglo-Saxons were groups of Germanic tribes who left their homelands to arrive in Britain to kick a bit of arse.

Once the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the English language began to take shape, though only in the southern regions of the island where they were most prominent. The northern regions would still remain tribal and incredibly diverse, both linguistically and culturally at the time.

Other languages were present at the time, including Pictish, spoken in what is now Scotland. It has remained somewhat of a mystery to linguists and has been suggested to be related to the Celtic languages, or possibly even the now isolated Basque language.

By the end of the 8th century, the Vikings had decided to rape and pillage the northern regions of what is now England, and even attempted raids on areas of Scotland. This practice would continue for many years until the end of the 9th century, though at points the Vikings, who were more politely known as the Norse by historians, did gain a foothold in Britain. The Norse would eventually lose power by the latter half of the 10th century.

Edmund Ironside (left) was the King of England who
repeatedly battled Cnut the Great (right).
The early 11th century had a few more invasions, particularly by Cnut the Great of Denmark. For nearly two decades England and Denmark were united, until Cnut's death when the regions of England became independent of Danish rule once more.

The language that is currently known as Old English was fairly common and widely used by this point, but still relatively pure in terms of Latin influence. That is, until one of England's most important historical dates, 1066, which we will be talking about in more depth tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 1

It goes without saying that Latin has had a huge effect on many languages. Thanks to Latin, we have many of our favourite Romance languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, to name just a few.

Today, however, we'll be looking at how Latin has shaped The Lingua File's mother tongue, English. Thanks to the Romans, the Church, and the Norman Conquest, the residual effects of Latin can be seen on one of the world's most international languages.

The British Isles as seen from space.
In the time of Julius Caesar, the English language didn't even exist. The arrival of Anglo-Saxons wasn't until the 5th century, and the Jutes didn't arrive until the 7th century, which is perhaps the earliest we can begin to talk about the foundations of what would later become the English language.

Under Caesar's rule, the Roman Empire traded and maintained diplomatic links with Britain following several expeditions to the island, plus a few invasions for good measure. These relations would only last for about a century, and eventually Augustus planned his first invasion.

Over the space of 40-odd years, the Romans kept having a go at the poor British tribes and eventually held control of most of the island, with the Scots still causing trouble. The Romans maintained a level of control in Britain for about four centuries, yet its linguistic legacy is by no means as great as in nations such as France, Spain, and Portugal.

Tomorrow, we'll be continuing our look at how the Latin language, which was by no means thriving by the time the Anglo-Saxons arrived in the 5th century, still managed to shape the English language via more peaceful methods, albeit only after a few more invasions paired with rape, pillaging, and slaughter.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Language Profile: Uzbek

This week we're taking a brief look at Uzbek, which belongs to the Turkic language family that also includes the Turkish and Kazakh languages. Unsurprisingly, it is the official language of Uzbekistan. It has over 20 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in Uzbekistan and surrounding countries in Central Asia.

Uzbek shares characteristics with many other languages in the region. Its grammar and lexicon are similar to those of other Turkic languages. The Persian language, spoken in neighboring Tajikistan and Afghanistan, has also influenced the pronunciation of certain Uzbek vowels. The influence of Islam has added many Arabic loanwords to the language, while previous Soviet rule of the region led to the contribution of many new Russian terms.

Sher-Dor Madrasah is a school in Samarkand, the second-
largest city in Uzbekistan, built in the 17th century.
When it comes to written language, Uzbek has quite an interesting history. The language has been written in three completely different scripts, and the transitions between the three all occurred in a span of about 20 years!

Before the 1920s, Uzbek was written in various Arabic-based scripts like many other Turkic languages. A decade later, many of the Turkic languages were Latinized for both educational and political purposes, so Uzbek was converted into a Latin-based script. In 1940, Stalin decided that the official alphabet should be Cyrillic, which stayed in place as the writing system of choice until the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The Uzbek language is now primarily written in a Latin script due to its reintroduction in the 1990s, but it is not uncommon to find it written in Cyrillic as well. The Latin script has only been found on Uzbek coins since 2001, while official websites, street signs, and news media have been using it in print for little more than a decade.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day: The Languages of France

Today France celebrates Bastille Day, the French National Day, which is known as La Fête Nationale in French. In honour of the occasion, we thought we'd take a look at some of the languages spoken in the country, excluding French since we already covered it a while back in its own language profile. With today being a Sunday, most of the country will be shaking off a gueule de bois from the undoubtedly wine-fuelled celebrations that commenced yesterday evening. You can sit back, relax, and learn a bit more about the minority languages spoken in a country where the past relationship between the state and minority languages could be considered tense at best. Nowadays things are better and many of the languages have some degree of official status or legal recognition.

Bastille Day fireworks in Carcassonne, France.
German Dialects

Alsatian is France's most popular "native" language. We use the term "native" sparingly as Alsace, the region where it is predominantly spoken, has changed hands quite frequently between France and Germany. The language is technically a dialect of German and doesn't possess Latin roots unlike many of France's other minority languages. In total, Alsatian is spoken by nearly 1.5% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is another dialect of German that holds official status in France, and is spoken by around 0.2% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is closely related to Alsatian, too.


The group of languages known as Occitan, which includes the dialects Languedocian, Gascon, and Provençal, is the second largest group of languages spoken across France. The language in its >entirety accounts for around 1.3% of the population of France. The Languedocian dialect is spoken in, you've guessed it, Languedoc, the Gascon dialect in Gascony, and Provençal in Provence, so you really shouldn't have any problem remembering who speaks which dialect where. Occitan is also spoken in some areas of northern Spain.

Langues d'oïl

The langues d'oïl are a group of languages, or more correctly a dialect continuum, which is spoken from northern and central France to Belgium and Switzerland. Though only around 570,000 speak the language, due to the geographic dispersion of the language, differences can be vast and complicated and the classification of the languages and dialects is still disputed.

Josselin Castle alongside the River Oust in Brittany.

One of France's most out of place languages is the Celtic language of Breton. In Brittany, or Bretagne in French, the language is undergoing recovery after its UNESCO classification as an endangered language. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of children attending bilingual classes in the region. The language also has around 270,000 speakers. L'aise Breizh!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Wide World Of Punctuation: Part 2

Today we're continuing our look at the most interesting punctuation the world has to offer. These symbols can do just about anything, from directing your attention to decorating pages, and even showing your romantic mood!

& - The ampersand is derived from the phrase "and per se and". Since it means "and", it makes sense that the symbol gradually evolved from the French word et. The two letters began to be written together in such a way that they connected, and the rest is history.

@ - It may sound crazy, but it turns out that the at symbol has been in use for hundreds of years, and no, the internet didn't exist then. Originally, it was used to abbreviate the word arroba, which was a unit of weight used by the Spanish and Portuguese equal to 25 pounds. Who knew‽

The index points to the reward so you'll
help to catch Honest Abe's killer!
- The fleuron has been used for centuries, and was first present in early Latin and Greek texts. The symbol gets its name from the Old French term floron, meaning "flower", which makes sense as it is generally a stylized representation of flowers or leaves. It's used as a fancy way to divide paragraphs in texts, as well as to make ornamental borders around the sides of pages. Also written , it has many other names including hedera and printers' flower.

- The aptly named pointing hand is used to direct your attention to important things, but is also found in places like encyclopedias to refer you to other articles, or in magazines to tell you where a story continues. It was originally used in Spanish texts, and is also known by the names index, manicule, fist, bishop's fist, and mutton-fist. We have no idea where the inspiration for those last two names came from!

There are plenty of other interesting symbols to mention, but we'll just mention six more. Back in 1966, a French writer named Hervé Bazin came up with six new punctuation marks. They're known as the love point, the irony point, the certitude point, the authority point, the acclamation point, and the doubt point. You can see them in all their glory here.

As for yesterday's mind-numbing punctuation puzzle, here's the answer:

James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

The use of italics helps to show emphasis in the sentence, though it is clearly not part of the puzzle since it isn't a type of punctuation! If you'd like a more detailed explanation of it all, you can find it here.

☞ We hope you've enjoyed our look @ some crazy symbols & punctuation!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Wide World Of Punctuation: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago we gave a brief introduction to orthography in which we mentioned the importance of punctuation. It turns out that there is far more punctuation in existence than most of us use on a daily basis, let alone know about, so we'll be taking the next two days to explore the fascinating world of punctuation.

Before we dive right in, it's important to know the purpose of punctuation. These marks are basically symbols that we use to help organize written language. They can convey intonation, pauses, and meaning, and are used in different ways by different languages.

A pilcrow is not a type of crow!
We hope you already know how to use basic punctuation like question marks, apostrophes, commas, and exclamation points. At the very least, you should have a good handle on how to use periods, also known as full stops. Today though, we're more interested in exciting punctuation with names like "interrobang" and "pilcrow".

 - The interrobang is pretty self-explanatory. It combines the characteristics of an exclamation point and a question mark. If they showed up on keyboards, you would see far more Facebook statuses that looked like "She said WHAT‽" instead of an endless sea of both punctuation marks.

* - It is most commonly known as an asterisk, though some call it a star or a splat. They can be used to identify footnotes, emphasis, and corrections to a text. As of late, they're most popularly used to censor or avoid profanity.

 - Stack three asterisks in a triangle and you get an asterism, which sounds dangerous, but isn't. You generally only find them in literature, such as separating sub-chapters in a book.

Dagger Lake, Washington
 - Like the asterisk, the dagger, or obelisk, is used to tell you that there's a footnote in the text you're reading. However, it is also used to indicate death. Yes, really. If you ever see the dagger immediately before or after a person's name, it likely means they're deceased. Likewise, a dagger next to a word in the Oxford English Dictionary means that it is obsolete!

 - There's also the double dagger, known as the diesis, which is rarely seen. On a book page filled with footnotes, you may find it denoting the third footnote, with an asterisk used for the first and a dagger for the second.

 - You may call it a paragraph mark, but its original name is the pilcrow. It's mostly used as an indent to make separate paragraphs, and lurks behind the scenes in the formatting of all your Word documents.

Finally, here's a great (albeit insane) example of the importance of punctuation. It's a grammatical puzzle, in which you must add punctuation to create a sentence that actually has meaning. It is:

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

Add any punctuation you feel necessary, and if you'd like, leave us your guesses in the comments below! We'll have the answer for you at the end of Part 2 post tomorrow. We suggest trying to do it yourself instead of looking up the answer...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get It Right: Bear, Bear, Bear, And Bare

In our ongoing mission to inform everyone of how to correctly use the English language, today we're looking at bear, bear, bear, and bare, and no, that's not a typo. Just like Goldilocks, we have three "bears" and then bare, just for good measure.

The reason we have three bears is because they are homonyms, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Two of the meanings are verbs and the other is a noun. However, all four of today's terms are homophones, words that are pronounced the same.

A grizzly bear enjoying a lovely mountain view.

As a noun, the word bear refers to the large mammal, often represented in popular culture as either a cute bear cub or a "teddy" bear, named after the American president who couldn't bring himself to shoot such an adorable creature.


The second variant of bear is a verb that refers to carrying, holding, or displaying something. The American flag bears fifty stars and thirteen stripes, while the Second Amendment to its accompanying Constitution permits citizens, when part of an organised militia, the right to bear arms.


The final of our three homonyms refers to tolerating, enduring, or generally putting up with something, as in: "I can't bear it any longer!" or "sometimes you just have to grin and bear it".


The final word in our list for today can be both a noun and a verb. The noun form refers to something that is uncovered or empty, such as bare arms or a bare cupboard. The verb refers to the uncovering of something, so you can technically both bear arms and bare arms, though we'd recommend that you do neither of these things.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Complexity Of French Homophones

If you've ever studied or learned French, then you should be aware that pronunciation, especially with the often silent final letters, can be awkward and frequently very similar. This can be very difficult for those learning the language and, at times, difficult for those who speak it as their first language.

Today's post is brought to you by the letter A.
Some homophones are spelled almost identically except for a diacritic mark. A prime example is the word a, which is the third person singular conjugation of the verb avoir meaning "to have", and à which is a preposition meaning "to", "at", or "in".

It should also be noted that ai, the first person singular of the verb avoir, is almost exclusively found contracted with the word je, ("I"), in the form j'ai, and is pronounced the same as the verb's singular subjunctive forms as well as third person plural (j'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, ils/elles aient respectively). Not to mention being a homophone of the second and third person singular of être, meaning "to be".

As if the verbs for "to have" and "to be" having multiple conjugations that are homophones wasn't awkward enough, the words for "or" and "where" are also homophones, and very nearly homonyms, as they are ou and  respectively.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of French homophones but merely a few examples of those that we find to be the most poignantDespite this frequent annoyance, if you are hoping to learn French, you shouldn't let it put you off. These awkward intricacies are what makes this Romance language so elusive, beautiful, and interesting.

If you have any good examples of French homophones, tell us about them in the comments below.